Latest news on Three Waters reform

New Prime Minister Chris Hipkins is considering what will happen with three waters reform and has appointed Kieran McAnulty as Minister for Local Government, with the responsibility to look at the reform and make changes. McAnulty has said some decisions will be announced in the near future.
Southland District Council spoke to its submission on the the Water Services Legislation Bill and the Water Services Economic Efficiency and Consumer Protection Bill to the select committee in early March.

Mayor Rob Scott and chief executive Cameron McIntosh spoke on the need for three waters reform, and how the process for this has been flawed.
Government says the Water Services Legislation Bill will make sure the new water services entities have the necessary legal functions, responsibilities, and powers to get on with their work on 1 July 2024.

It includes recognition and respect of the Crown’s Te Tiriti o Waitangi responsibilities and also recognises the importance of local water services for rural communities.

The Water Services Economic Efficiency and Consumer Protection Bill provides a detailed longer-term framework for ensuring water services entities provide affordable and well managed services.

This third bill will aim to ensure water services entities are held to account for providing consumers with a decent level of service when they have queries or complaints.

The first Act in this series, the Water Services Entities Act, was passed into legislation in December last year. It establishes the four new publicly owned water services entities.

The Act locks in community ownership and oversight of the new water services entities through local government’s role as shareholders.

Why is Three Waters reform needed?

(taken from the New Zealand Government three waters reform site)

  • Some New Zealanders don’t have access to safe drinking water from their tap:
  • 1 in 5 New Zealanders have tap water that isn’t safe to drink (Ministry of Health, 2021).
  • In 2020-2021, over 1 million people had access to tap water that didn’t meet drinking water safety standards (Water New Zealand, 2021).
  • In 2019-2020, 500,000 people lived with boil water notices (Ministry of Health, 2019-2020).
  • There are some areas in Aotearoa where boil water notices are permanent (Ministry of Health, 2019-2020).
  • More than half of our drinking water suppliers provided water below the drinking water standards in 2021 (Taumata Arowai, 2022).

Three Waters reform will create new opportunities for our water workforce:

  • 6,000 – 9,000 jobs are expected to be created over the next 30 years (DAE Industry Development Study, 2021).
  • Deloitte projects that the water workforce will grow from 9,000 to almost 17,000 employees by 2051 (DAE Industry Development Study, 2021). 

Investment is needed:

  • It’s estimated that New Zealand needs to invest $120 billion to $185 billion in our three waters infrastructure over the next 30 years (Water Industry Commission for Scotland, 2021). 
  • Without reform, the cost to households will be between $1,900 and $9,000 (Water Industry Commission for Scotland, 2021).
  • With reform, costs are projected to range between $800 and $1,640 (Water Industry Commission for Scotland, 2021). 

Decades of underinvestment has led to aging infrastructure:

  • A third of our national wastewater treatment plants need upgrades (Water New Zealand, 2021).
  • In 2020-2021 there were around 12 wastewater and stormwater overflows per day (Water New Zealand, 2021).
  • Approximately 20% of drinking water is lost on the way to households each year (Water New Zealand, 2020-2021).
  • In 2020 – 2021, one-third of all wastewater treatment plants operated without the required consents and require upgrades to be compliant (Water New Zealand, 2020-2021).
  • More than 4,000 overflows from wastewater networks occurred in 2020-2021. Twelve times every day, untreated wastewater pollutes our waterways or surfaces in residential areas (Water New Zealand, 2020-2021).

How will this reform improve wastewater, water supply and stormwater?

The Government has created a plan to make sure our three waters are in good condition to meet challenges like population growth, climate change and natural disasters.

Under this plan four new publicly-owned water services entities will run New Zealand’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services – currently operated by councils on behalf of communities. The Government’s plan will build these new entities on the foundations of existing council infrastructure, people, and expertise. The plan is designed to give the new water organisations the financial flexibility to make the necessary upgrades more affordable for everyone.

The entity of which Southland fits into covers the majority of the South Island, excluding the top of the island.

As part of the reform, the Government created a new water services regulator to enforce a new drinking water regulatory system, while contributing to improved environmental outcomes from wastewater and stormwater networks.

Taumata Arowai was established as a Crown entity in March 2021 and became New Zealand’s dedicated regulator of drinking water, when the Water Services Act came into effect on 15 November 2021. In 2024, it will assume responsibility for wastewater and stormwater networks, becoming the three waters regulator for Aotearoa.

The three waters reform programme has four key outcomes:

  • safe, reliable drinking water
  • better environmental performance of wastewater and stormwater services
  • efficient, sustainable, resilient and accountable multi-regional water and sewage services
  • making it affordable for future generations.