Earthquake damage highlights need for better ways to invest in NZ’s water services

2 Dec 2016

Year 2016

Earthquake damage highlights need for better ways to invest in NZ’s water services

The devastating effect of the 2011 Canterbury earthquake has led to a major project which could save ratepayers billions of dollars on the cost of replacing vital water pipes.

Major earthquakes take a huge toll on vital infrastructure such as water and highlight the need for improved decision making on pipeline replacement, says Water New Zealand Chief Executive John Pfahlert.

This has sparked a joint venture between Water New Zealand, the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA) and the Quake Centre based at Canterbury University, aimed at providing tools to enable better and more nationally consistent decisions on where and how to renew and replace water piping.

“This programme could hold the key for unlocking huge savings for ratepayers. If we could improve decision making by 5 percent on a $50-billion asset, that’s $2.5-billion of potential savings – a significant amount in anyone’s terms.”

The first stage of the programme has been released this week. It aims to bring together guidance documents and tools to enable Council staff to make evidence based decisions relating to the management and renewal of their drinking, storm and wastewater pipe networks. The programme covers inspection, maintenance and renewal strategies.

Mr Pfahlert says all around the country, drinking water, wastewater and storm water pipes are nearing the end of their useful lives and will need replacing.

“This is vital underground infrastructure worth $50 billion. Yet it’s a burden that many local authorities have an “out of sight out of mind” attitude to.”

“Let’s face it, libraries, swimming pools and parks make a much more attractive and visible investment. And this has led to a consistent pattern by councils of delaying spending on assets that can’t be seen.”

Quake Centre Manager, Greg Preston says a key component to improving sector performance is knowledge-sharing.

The programme will also help councils use national data effectively to help them decide where they are best to spend their funds – what pipe replacements need to be done urgently and what can wait.

“This is a long and detailed project but has the potential to save billions of dollars, allow communities to understand what resilience means for them and to make the best local decision based on real information.”