LGNZ is today welcoming the introduction of the Water Services Bill, legislation that will detail the powers of the recently formed drinking water regulator Taumata Arowai.
LGNZ has been calling for clear drinking-water standards, and strong enforcement of those standards since 2015, when LGNZ published the Three Waters position paper, a year before the Havelock North contamination. That position paper highlighted the need for improved regulatory frameworks and enforcement of the standards.
The Water Services Bill is the third pillar in the Government’s reform programme, which also comprises establishing Taumata Arowai as the regulator, and proposing new multi-regional statutory entities to deliver three waters services.
“In countries around the world, best practice is that a regulator sets clear standards, and strong enforcement action backs those up. Then it is up to the asset owners and providers to meet those standards, or face enforcement,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.
“Unfortunately New Zealand has been a little bit unusual in the fact that we didn’t have clear standards or rigorous enforcement, and that has contributed greatly to a system failure.”
The Government’s own Havelock North contamination review was damning of the previous regulatory system, finding that no formal enforcement action was taken by District Health Boards from when the previous drinking water regime was introduced in 2007, up until 2018.
“LGNZ support the ambitions of the Government to ensure safe drinking-water, and we want to work closely with them to ensure this. We’re very pleased to see this long needed regulator taking shape. It will drive real improvement for New Zealand’s drinking water supplies.”
“It’s fair to say that the vast majority of New Zealanders can turn their taps on at any time and be confident that they will get clean, fresh drinking water, but this regulator will work to lift performance in specific areas.”
Similar to some council networks, there are affordability challenges for non-networked supplies in meeting new, higher standards.
“Councils need to dedicate their attention to council owned and operated supplies. Our preference is that the drinking-water regulator is responsible for assessing non-council water networks in the first instance, while councils work to meet the standards of their own networks.”
Implications for housing and infrastructure growth also need to be fully considered.
“Not all growth can be serviced through connections to the council network. The Government needs to be clear whether it wants to enable independent non-council networks in the future, or if it seeks to limit growth to where the reticulated council networks are.”
“This presents a situation where local government could be the last man standing, putting a significant burden on ratepayers, and therefore making councils very cautious when assessing developments that set up their own network.”
“Regardless, Local Government New Zealand is committed to working with the Government on Three Waters Reform, and looking at how we can address these questions and improve affordability of improved three waters infrastructure, that meets higher standards in the future,” concluded Mr Cull.