Max Vollenbroich, of the German company Amex-Sanivar, is working to repair a damaged mud pipe. Photo / Provided
The country’s water workforce is struggling to meet huge growth and infrastructure needs as decades of underinvestment in pipelines can finally be overcome.
Water New Zealand’s latest National Performance Review shows $ 1.6 billion was spent on capital improvements last year.
That increased 44 percent for water supply and 30 percent for wastewater discharges over the previous year.
The 2019/2020 study covers about 90 percent of the population and 42 water suppliers.
But the Department of Home Affairs estimates the cost of repairing New Zealand’s wretched pipeline could be as high as $ 110 billion over the next 30 to 40 years.
Generating billions of dollars in investment on this problem is only half the equation.
One actually has to do the job physically too.
The study found, on average, only 77 percent of budgeted capital expenditure was spent in the past financial year.
Water New Zealand chief executive Gillian Blythe said the lack of people to complete the project was widely recognized as the main reason for this gap.
The review reveals that the workforce is struggling to keep up with existing growth rates despite a 25 percent increase in the number of people employed in the past four years.
“High vacancy rates continue to be a feature, with vacancy rates of 8 percent in the three water sectors,” said Blythe.
“This has an impact on the ability of service providers to keep up with the level of service demanded by consumers and regulatory standards.
The New Zealand audit recently raised concerns about the matter with Wellington City Council.
The council has budgeted an estimated $ 678 million over the next 10 years to deliver a three-water capital city program.
But audit director Karen Young said shipping was risky because of other large infrastructure projects within the region and nationally, competing for limited resources.
“This, coupled with the uncertainty of Covid-19, could result in the council failing to deliver on its capital program in the coming years, which could have an impact on service levels.”
Wellington Water’s Renewed Long Term Planning report published earlier this year says that local market capacities and capabilities are currently measured for historically static funding levels.
Wellington Water manages water assets for the Hutt, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Wellington City councils, the Wairarapa South District Council and the Greater Wellington Regional Council.
The company requests an independent review of the capabilities and capacities of the local sector, which will be accepted.
Last year, Wellington Water launched an accelerated apprenticeship scheme for Three Waters’ vital workforce to retrain 100 people.
The company did not succeed in promoting to the Government as a Covid-19 response project that is ready to shovel.
Wellington Water Group’s Customer Operations Manager Kevin Locke said on the ground, large-scale investment was being challenged by fragmented ownership and a construction sector crippled by outdated working methods.
“This work will be done faster, more efficiently, in a way that builds lasting benefits for the nation and supports an innovation-oriented economy.”
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta previously said she was working with Water New Zealand on what it takes to grow dedicated hydropower.
He gave the example of a team of technicians who were flown in from Germany amid the Covid-19 lockdown to repair two damaged mud pipes in Wellington.
“This just shows me the amount of planning and investment we have to do … so that we have our own workforce that we can rely on for all aspects of our network service”, he said at a public meeting.
Blythe said the situation created opportunities for school leavers and those looking for new avenues.
“The water sector is a great place to work for those interested in giving back to their communities and environment.”