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Regarding Water ‘Crisis’ letter in 21 March Gulf News- Care for the Community

As Sarah Williams is the self-appointed ego-massager for the local board, we would not expect to get an in-depth look at the issue of water on the island, but someone needs to poke holes in the current myths being passed around. To be fair, some of the points she makes most of us agree with. My own family has decided not to buy water and we adjust our usage carefully to match the water supply, sometimes with drastic reductions. But we can afford to get off island regularly and use up mainland water supply, which is fortunate for us.

Most agree we do not want the Council to engage in a master flustercluck operation to try to bring reticulation to the island. One of the recent Gulf News issues had an article from 10 years ago, wherein one of the Council employees was emphatically stating that they had no interest in reticulating at the time, and I am inclined to believe him. Judging by their habits of budgeting, Councils seem to favor self-financing or as-limited-as-possible expenditures as far as Waiheke is concerned. The cost of such a venture compared to the small benefit the Council might receive back from it is so out of balance that I doubt the bureaucrats are seriously considering such a plan now, if they ever were. We can’t afford to get a pool or library built but somehow we are going to have a massive public works operation to hook up every bach on the island? Not likely.

The statement that Council does not control water supply is self-evident. What is at issue is how local government responds to a water shortage. Many ideas were put forward and in the end residents themselves mounted a coordination effort to look out for each other. This raises an interesting discussion point around just what people can expect from their local government. If the local board cannot mount an effective response to a low level crisis such as water shortage, just how do they expect to mount a serious emergency response to, say, an earthquake?

That Ms. Williams has the disposable income to “invest thousands” on her own system is quite a fortunate position to be in. It suggests a couple of things. The first is that she owns her own home, and second that her expenditures are such that there is  quite a surplus left over in which to invest in optimizing her living situation. That in turn suggests that perhaps things such as pensions and gold cards might be available to her, which provide that cushion of support and security that everyone looks forward to later in years. Good for her. We all hope to get such support some day.

Now lets look at how the other half lives.  Some of these are the people who were not lucky enough to buy a house by the mid-90’s at the latest, or to have inherited property from their own parents who bought property during the affordable years. Locked out of the now “severely unaffordable” housing market (as named in the Demographia 2012 survey) they are renting. If you have looked at many rental properties you will have noticed that the majority have undersized water tanks that were appropriate for 6 weeks of summer bach use back in the day. Since the new, landlord-friendly law states (rushed through in haste in 2011 during a wet year so no one noticed its passing) that these people are responsible for filling their own chronically under-capacity tanks, this means that in addition to paying severely unaffordable rents, they must now stump up for inevitable water costs, no matter how frugal they might be. The landlord is not required to supply water storage sufficient for the year-round occupation of a house because the law doesn’t recognize the unusual circumstances of those relying on tank water.

I agree that there is a lot of  water wasted on the island and the island’s aquifer is being drawn down by too many extravagant users, which I won’t go into here. But the place to start is not by scolding the less fortunate.

I would also like to alert Ms. Williams that Big Government, Big Business, Big Developers and Big Landowners have been in residence for quite awhile now, with predictable results. Our current ratepayer-funded boondoggles include the $5m Library, the likely $5m Esplanade roading project, future ones include the proposed multimillion dollar luxury Marina project and the Supermarket, whose estimated bills ratepayers have not received yet. There are numerous developments in the works as we speak, many of them requiring ratepayer funding one way or another.

Almost all our major, most-frequented businesses are from over the water. This trend is on the upswing as tradesman move to more affordable and lucrative business locations and old tradesmen retire without selling their businesses on. Countdown, 4 Square, Placemakers, BP, etc are the cornerstone of Waiheke commerce. The Top Shop and other local businesses are frequented mostly by tourists. So our island is anything but “local”.

Lastly, I thought it was the prime job of local government to be keeping an eye on the welfare of ALL of its citizens. Obviously NZ has done a great job at putting together a retirement package for the elderly that is the envy of most places in the world. Since we will all be elderly one day, no one faults this effort. But for those receiving such benefits, please remember who is footing that bill at the moment. They are the same people who are experiencing hardship right now and they deserve a well-considered response instead of a letter-bashing.  I found the statement that people should ‘get strong’ misleading and insulting as well as grossly ill-informed. I do not know Ms. Williams, but then I don’t think Ms. Williams knows who she is addressing as the weak and  worthless.

Posted in Comment.


2 Responses

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  1. Rien Achterberg says

    Well put Millie!

  2. Lyndal Jefferies says

    I was horrified to be at a ‘Crisis Meeting’ with Civil Defence, the health department and local healthcare providers, iwi and board members and no amount of begging from the ‘plebs’ concerned that whanau were getting sick and people who were desperately in need of water for medical or other reasons got through to them. In the end Awua agreed to receive a priority list compiled by a Low income Mum with a wee baby so we could get help to those who needed it most. Civil Defence did nothing! The local Board (aside from Paul Walden) did nothing and the health department too. The message was clear they didn’t care! It has left me with the terribly uneasy feeling that we ate on our own given any future crisis …



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