What is the Government's Three Waters plan and why is it making mayors so upset?

Councils around the country are in open revolt against the Government's plan for water management - but what is Three Waters, and why are mayors so upset by it? 

Matamata-Piako Mayor Ash Tanner has two words for the Government: "Back off."

He, like most of New Zealand's mayors, is angry at the proposal to overhaul the way water is managed, called Three Waters.

"In my opinion, and my Council's opinion, we think it's crap - pardon the pun," Tanner said.

The Government says it wants to avoid another Havelock North water crisis, where 5000 people fell ill, and estimates fixing New Zealand's water infrastructure has a $185 billion repair bill over the coming 30 years.

So it wants to take control off councils, with Three Waters referring to:

  • Drinking water
  • Wastewater
  • Stormwater

Currently these are controlled by 67 different councils, but the Government wants four authorities.

"We don't trust it, we don't have confidence in it, and we don't find it credible," Tanner said.

Wellington has a problem with its pipes, but Mayor Andy Foster says lumping its water management in with regions like Gisborne and Nelson will not work.

"There's clearly a need for change but we have real concerns about the change that is being proposed - essentially taking water away from the communities that have built those assets up," he said.

And like many public infrastructure issues, the public's knowledge isn't great.

The Government says there will be reduced water bills and has offered councils a $2.5 billion compensation package. 

But Waimakariri Mayor Dan Gordon says the public will lose too much control.

"Frankly I think the Government's advertising campaign has been crude and misleading and represents our sector unfairly," he said.

There's lots of opposition to the Three Waters plan, but the Government still has all the power to really flip this on the councils if it wants to, by simply passing a law that makes them do it.

Submissions on the plan close on Thursday. So far, only six councils have publicly supported it.