Government Announcement on the 3 Waters Review

By Nick Hewer-Hewit 
Added 20 Aug 2019 

The main elements of the Government’s announcement are as follows:

  • A central, dedicated water regulator
  • Stronger requirements to manage risks to drinking water safety
  • Stronger, centralised approach to drinking water compliance, monitoring and enforcement
  • Extending regulatory coverage to all water suppliers, except individual self-suppliers but including specified self-suppliers e.g marae, rural schools etc
  • Strengthened Government stewardship of wastewater and stormwater services, with Regional Councils remaining primary regulators for the environment
  • A new Water Services Bill
  • Transitional arrangements of up to five years to allow water suppliers to adjust to the regulations, if necessary with support from the new regulator
  • Financial incentives for Councils to investigate collaborative water service delivery.
  • The Department of Internal Affairs is preparing a business case to assess options on who the regulator should be. The final form, scope and location of the regulator will be decided later in the year (September).

A central dedicated water regulator

The regulator will drive a centralised, integrated approach to drinking water compliance, monitoring and enforcement and will be responsible for overseeing the entire drinking water regulatory system.

The regulator’s main focus is on drinking water but they will also undertake some wastewater and stormwater functions to lift performance and transparency of wastewater and stormwater systems.

The regulator will have a range of responsibilities and functions, including sector leadership; standards setting; compliance, monitoring and enforcement; capability building; information, advice and education; and performance reporting.

A significant part of the regulator’s role would be to build capability and capacity across the three waters sector.

Stronger requirements to manage risks to drinking water safety

All drinking water suppliers will be required to provide safe drinking water, comply with the drinking water standards and protect drinking water sources by taking a multibarrier approach to drinking water safety, and improvement to water safety planning.

Exemptions for residual treatment (chlorination) may be available if the supplier can demonstrate that all risks to the safety of the water are being managed appropriately.

A stronger, centralised approach to drinking water compliance, monitoring and enforcement

The regulator will have the ability to support suppliers to comply with their regulatory obligations, and to act to address non-compliance.

The regulator will be provided with a broad range of compliance, monitoring and enforcement tools including providing assistance and advice to suppliers, requiring suppliers to provide information, minor penalties in the form of instant fines and infringement notices, civil enforcement, criminal enforcement, accreditation for drinking water suppliers and registration and licensing for certain workers.

In the event of non-performance, the regulator will be able to appoint a statutory manager or accredited provider or require a drinking water supplier to transfer the management of its operations to another supplier, on a long-term basis.

Extending regulatory coverage to all water suppliers, except individual self-suppliers

There will be an obligation on territorial authorities to inform themselves about the supplies of drinking water to communities across their districts – including all non-council suppliers (with exceptions) eg. schools, marae and small business. Where there is non-compliance, territorial authorities must work with the suppliers and the regulator to find solutions.

Lifting the performance of wastewater and stormwater systems and providing greater transparency

Measures to improve the environmental regulation and performance of wastewater and stormwater systems include:  

  • A new national environmental standard for wastewater discharges and managed overflows
  • New obligations on wastewater and stormwater network operators to manage risks to people, property and the environment associated with the operation of their infrastructure (including through a risk management approach similar to that for drinking water)
  • The development of national guidance to improve the regulation and design of stormwater systems
  • A new requirement for wastewater and stormwater network operators to report annually on a set of nationally-prescribed environmental performance metrics including the status of active and expired discharge consents, and the anticipated timeframes for renewals.
  • The new regulatory requirements above will be progressed through the Ministry for the Environment’s Essential Freshwater programme.

National-level oversight relating to wastewater and stormwater regulation

The regulator will monitor and audit the risk management practices (including consent renewals) and will administer the performance metric scheme. It will also identify and monitor emerging contaminants in drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

The regulator will provide national guidance for local authorities regarding the compliance, monitoring and enforcement approaches to be used for wastewater and stormwater network operators. Regional Councils will remain the primary regulators for the environment with enforcement expectations set by the regulator.

Regional councils will report annual trends in source water quality and quantity and assess the effectiveness of actions taken to manage risks.

A new Water Services Bill

The current drinking water provisions will be moved out of the multi-purpose Health Act and into a stand-alone Water Services Bill.

The Government is aiming to introduce this Bill by the end of the year, with possible enactment by mid-2020.

Transitional arrangements of up to five years to allow water suppliers to adjust to the regulations, if necessary with support from the new regulator

From the date of enactment all drinking water suppliers must register with the regulator.

By the end of the first year following enactment, all suppliers that provide drinking water to 500 or more consumers will be required to prepare or update their drinking water safety plans and be operating in accordance with those plans.

By the end of the third year, the regulator will be required to actively monitor the performance of these suppliers, and take enforcement action where appropriate.

By the end of the fifth year, all drinking water suppliers (including the smaller ones) will be required to comply with all regulatory requirements.

Incentivising regions to investigate collaborative water service delivery

The Minister of Local Government will report back to Cabinet in late 2019 on service delivery and funding arrangements.

In the meantime, a fund will be made available to support and incentivise regions in their investigation of collaborative water service delivery changes. The fund is intended as a co-investment with local government to assist with business case development, due diligence and community consultation in regions or sub-regions considering voluntary change.

The two key cabinet papers can be found at :  

https://www.dia.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/Files/Three-waters-documents/$file/Cabinet-Paper-and-minute-Strengthening-regulation.pdf

https://www.dia.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/Files/Three-waters-documents/$file/Cabinet-paper-and-minute-Plan-for-Three-Waters-Reform.pdf

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