A major Government-led reform of New Zealand's drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services is under way. We're working through understanding what it could mean for our community.

Latest updates

Challenges for councils

At the moment, New Zealand's drinking water, wastewater and stormwater (the 'three waters') services are mostly provided by 67 local councils, including ours.

However, councils around the country are facing a number of challenges, including:

  • large debt and affordability issues
  • meeting safety standards and environmental expectations
  • building resilience to natural hazards and climate change into their three waters networks
  • supporting the growth of their communities.

The Water Industry Commission for Scotland estimates that $120 to $185 billion needs to be invested in New Zealand's water services over the next 30 years, while the combined forecast spend in councils’ latest long-term budgets is about $81 billion.

There are also increasing concerns about the quality of New Zealand's drinking water and the safety of the infrastructure that delivers it.

Taumata Arowai

The Government's inquiry into the 2016 drinking-water contamination outbreak in Havelock North, and the following Three Waters Review, has led to the introduction of a new national regulator for water services called Taumata Arowai.

Taumata Arowai will have responsibility for overseeing and enforcing new drinking-water regulations and providing oversight of the environmental impacts of wastewater and stormwater.

The Taumata Arowai – Water Services Regulator Act, passed in July 2020, established Taumata Arowai as a Crown entity. Taumata Arowai will not become fully operational until the new Water Services Bill becomes law.

Water Services Bill

The Government's Water Services Bill is expected to be passed into law later this year.

The Bill contains all of the details of the new drinking-water regulations, the requirements for the protection of freshwater supplies, and Taumata Arowai’s wastewater and stormwater functions.

Once passed, Taumata Arowai will become New Zealand’s drinking water regulator, replacing the Ministry of Health.

Water services entities

The Government’s proposal is to establish four publicly owned water services entities across New Zealand.

Christchurch is included in the South Island entity ('Entity D') that comprises the Ngāi Tahu takiwā, the tribal boundary that covers most of the South Island.

This entity would provide drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services to a total population of 864,350 people.

The proposed structure would see the 21 councils in most of the South Island represented by six elected members and six iwi representatives in a Regional Representative Group.

The Regional Representative Group would appoint an independent selection panel, who in turn would appoint the water entity’s board members.

The board members would independently govern the entity.

Councils would be the 'owners' of the entities, on behalf of their communities, in a ‘no shareholding’ ownership model, with no financial recognition of ownership. 

Read the Government's Frequently Asked Questions about the entities(external link).

Support package

On 15 July 2021, the Government announced that a total of $2.5 billion would be split between the councils that continue with the Three Waters Reform Programme.

The Crown would contribute $1 billion of this, and the new water entities $1.5 billion.

Christchurch would get $122.4 million, and this money could go towards projects that meet specific criteria related to improving resilience to climate change, housing development, and community wellbeing.

Some of this $122.4 million would be made available from 1 July 2022, with the majority available from 1 July 2024, when the new water services entities are expected to be set up.

Additionally, Christchurch would also get a share of $50 million to be split between Auckland and Wellington too.

This $50 million is aimed at addressing the financial impact on councils as a result of the reform programme and the transfer of three waters assets, liabilities and revenues to the new entities. The exact amount Christchurch would get is yet to be determined.

Read the Government's Frequently Asked Questions about the support package.(external link)

The Government's main objective of the Three Waters Reform Programme is to provide a more efficient and consistent way of delivering three waters services across the country.

It is believed that by councils and communities joining together to provide these services at a larger scale, greater efficiencies and capabilities can be achieved.

Other specific objectives of the Three Waters Reform Programme can be summarised as follows.

Safe and reliable drinking water

For all New Zealanders and visitors. In 2016, thousands of people were infected in Havelock North by drinking water from contaminated bores. Four people died and others were left permanently disabled.

Affordable water services in the future

In some parts of the country, it is becoming increasingly unaffordable for councils, especially smaller councils with fewer ratepayers, to provide safe and reliable three waters services.

Climate change readiness

Increasing flooding events and sea-level rise will put pressure on three waters infrastructure and services. The Government is concerned about the ability of councils to meet this challenge without reform.

Same level of service for everyone

With 67 councils providing three waters services across the country, some communities receive a different level of service to others. The reform aims to provide a more consistent level of service for New Zealanders.

Proper investment in infrastructure

Through stage one of the reform process, the Government concluded there is ongoing underinvestment in three waters infrastructure in parts of the country. There may be large costs over the next 30 years as infrastructure is brought up to standard. These costs may be too much for some councils to carry alone.

All water services meeting new requirements

With a new national water regulator, Taumata Arowai, and a new economic regulator being set up, the Government is concerned councils may not be able to meet future requirements without reform.

Memorandum of understanding

In July 2020, the Government announced a financial package to maintain and improve three waters infrastructure and to support a three-stage programme of reform.

Like many councils in New Zealand, we signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Government to receive the financial package(external link) and to explore possible new ways of delivering our three waters services in the future. The MoU does not commit us to changing the way we currently deliver our water services, either now or in the future.

To date, we have received the first half of the financial package (about $20 million) and the remainder will be paid to us as progress payments. All of the three waters projects we planned to fund are under way around the city, and competitive pricing on some large water-mains projects means we even have spare funding to commit to additional projects.

Request for information

In January 2021, we responded to a national Request for Information from the Government. This allowed councils across the country to provide detailed information about their three waters networks to inform the Government's analysis and reform proposal.

Joint Three Waters Steering Committee

We have also been part of the Joint Three Waters Steering Committee, with representatives from central and local government overseeing and providing input into the design of the reform proposal.

The Steering Committee is made up of elected members and chief executives from local government, along with members of Local Government NZ (LGNZ), Taituarā (Local Government Professionals Aotearoa), and central government officials from the Department of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and the Treasury.

Engagement period with Government

We are currently involved in an eight-week engagement period with the Government until the end of September 2021, to better understand the implications of reform for the Council and for Christchurch and Banks Peninsula. This is a time set aside for councils to ask questions about the reform proposal and to provide feedback to the Government.

Public consultation

At the end of the engagement period, the Government will consider the next steps for the reform programme and a new timeframe for decision-making, which will include any time required for public consultation with communities.

We will be making it clear in our feedback to the Government that we fully expect to consult with our community when it comes to such an important and significant decision for Christchurch and Banks Peninsula.

Water chlorination

We are also awaiting the outcome of the Water Services Bill and the submission we have put to the Government(external link) about being able to work towards a chlorine-free water supply for Christchurch.

 

Timeline of reform

2016

Campylobacter outbreak in Havelock North. Thousands of people were infected by drinking water from contaminated bores. Four people died and others were left permanently disabled.

2017

Government inquiry into the Havelock North drinking-water contamination.

2017–19

Government's Three Waters Review.

Dec 2019 – Mar 2021

Taumata Arowai set up as a Crown Entity, to regulate drinking water from late 2021.

May 2020

Three Waters Steering Committee set up to oversee the Three Waters Reform Programme.

July 2020

Water Services Bill introduced, containing details of a new regulatory system. The Bill is expected to be passed into law in late 2021.

July 2020

Government financial package announced to improve water services delivery and to explore water reform in partnership with councils as part of a memorandum of understanding (MoU).

Aug 2020

Christchurch City Council signs the MoU with the Government to receive the financial package and to explore water reform options.

Apr – Jun 2021

Government to make more detailed decisions about the Three Waters Reform proposal.

Jun – Jul 2021

Government-led nationwide education campaign to help New Zealanders understand the Three Waters Reform Programme.

Aug – Sep 2021

Eight-week engagement period with the Government, to better understand the implications of reform for councils and communities.

Further information expected end of September about next steps for the reform programme and the new timeframe for decision-making.

2022

Preparation for forming the new water services entities.

2024

New entities expected to start providing water services.