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What's changing and why?He aha te mea e panonitia ana, ā, he aha ai?

Why is Government reforming three waters?

Everyone has the right to safe drinking water no matter where they live, and we should also expect strong and resilient stormwater and sewage services that protect the environment and enable communities to prosper and grow. 

The Government’s Affordable Water Reforms were initiated in response to the challenges facing three waters service delivery across the country.

Challenges include ageing infrastructure, historical under-investment, a bow-wave of wastewater plants to be reconsented, source water contamination, higher public expectations, resilience needed for impacts of climate change and natural hazards, changes in population and huge looming costs.

Government estimates New Zealand will need to invest $120 billion to $185 billion in three waters infrastructure over the next 30 years.

The Government’s view is that current arrangements and the council delivery model will not be able to address these challenges and transformational change is needed.

What’s changing?

That’s why Government is introducing a package of reforms:

The new responsibilities for drinking water suppliers are already in law under the Waters Services Act 2021, and Taumata Arowai, the regulator is up and running.

The Water Services Entities Act 2022 means changes to the way three waters services and infrastructure are owned and delivered.

In future, your local council will no longer be responsible for these services – known as three waters.

Instead, from July 2024 they will be owned and delivered by one of ten new multi-region entities across Aotearoa New Zealand. Hawke’s Bay will be part of a region combining Tairawhiti-Gisborne.

What will be different?

Find out more about the changes Government is making.


Here's more detail

The future of three waters services is changing regardless of the Government’s reforms. These services are expensive to provide, and combating future challenges will see the costs for delivering three waters services increasing across New Zealand:

  • Adapting to climate change and building resilience to natural hazards
  • Lifting the standard of service to meet health, environmental and cultural bottom lines
  • Responding to growth, housing and urban development needs
  • Maintaining and upgrading ageing infrastructure

To fix these problems, Government has introduced the Water Services Act 2021 and new drinking water standards, and is introducing new rules for the management of waste and storm water. A new water regulator has also been established.

For local councils to meet these new standards and rules, there would need to be large increases in household water costs across New Zealand which, without reform, would be shared unevenly among New Zealand households.

Government estimates that over the next 30 years, the costs could be up to 13 times higher for rural users, eight times higher for provincial areas and seven times higher for many metropolitan households.

Transferring ownership and responsibility of three waters services and infrastructure to ten multi-region water services entities is Government’s answer to addressing that affordability challenge.

In short, just about everything.

There are new responsibilities, rules and standards for drinking water suppliers under the Water Services Act 2021, overseen by the new three waters regulator Taumata Arowai.

The Water Services Entities Act 2022 means that in future, local councils will no longer be involved in the delivery of three waters services.

Instead, your three waters will be owned and delivered by ten new multi-region entities that will:

  • Be publicly owned by councils on behalf of communities, with protections against any future privatisation
  • Have joint strategic direction and oversight through Regional Representative Groups made up of representatives from councils and mana whenua
  • Be financially separate from councils with greater ability to borrow to fund long-term infrastructure
  • Have independent competency-based boards that would run the day-to-day management of the entities and oversee the maintenance and renewal of water infrastructure.

There’s more detail on How the new system will work.

There will be a range of new legislative protections, joint oversight arrangements and mechanisms to give effect to the principles of te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi; and Te Mana o te Wai. 

Oversight: Mana whenua will participate in the joint oversight of the new entities. Representative interests will need to be determined by Māori for Māori through a Kaupapa Māori process.

New entity operation: The water services entities will be required to have significant cultural and local expertise.

Te Mana o Te Wai: The changes will provide for local expression of Te Mana o Te Wai that will enable development of Mauri frameworks, application of mātauranga Māori measurement or any other expression that iwi decide is relevant to them. 

The changes in the Water Services Entities Act 2022 are aimed at council-owned services only. 

However, if you are a private drinking water supplier, you may be impacted because of the new responsibilities for drinking water suppliers under the Water Services Act 2021 and the new rules and standards for drinking water

You can find out more here.

As part of the reform process, Government appointed a Rural Supplies Technical Working Group to consider, whether council-owned, mixed use rural supply schemes (where there is a high degree of involvement by scheme users in their management and/operations) should transfer to the new water services entities.

The Working Group has reported to Government, but no further decisions have been made yet.

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