Water reform

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 update

The Government has announced major changes to New Zealand's affordable water reforms. Read more about the changes here(external link).

What you need to know

Challenges for councils

At the moment, New Zealand's drinking water, wastewater and stormwater 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.

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

New water regulator - 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(external link).

Taumata Arowai has 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. 

In November 2021, Taumata Arowai assumed its role and powers as the new independent water services regulator for New Zealand under the new Water Services Act 2021, replacing the previous responsibilities of the Ministry of Health.


The Water Services Act 2021 was passed into law in October 2021. The Act contains all of the details of the new regulatory regime for the supply of drinking water and Taumata Arowai's role and powers relating to wastewater and stormwater networks.

The Waters Services Entities Act (WSE Act) was passed in December 2022 and establishes the four new water service entities and outlines how the water services entities will be formed and operate. 

The Water Services Legislation Bill proposes amendments to the WSE Act and other Acts to varying degrees. It mostly adds new parts to give the detailed powers necessary for the WSEs to operate.

The Water Services Economic Efficiency and Consumer Protection Bill was introduced to the house on 8 December 2022. This Bill implements Cabinet’s agreement to establish an economic regulation and consumer protection regime as part of the Three Waters reform.

The Water Services Legislation Bill and Water Services Economic Efficiency and Consumer Protection Bill consultation closed on 12 February 2023.

What's planned

Water services entities

The Government is establishing ten publicly owned water services entities across New Zealand. The entities will provide drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services.   

Canterbury and West Coast will form one entity. This entity includes 13 districts - Buller, Grey, Westland, Kaikoura, Hurunui, Waimakariri, Christchurch City, Selwyn, Ashburton, Timaru, Waimate, Mackenzie and Waitaki.

The entities will be owned by local councils but will be operationally and financially independent from them. 

Each entity will be governed by a professional board, with members appointed for their competencies and skills. 

A regional representative group will be established for each entity.  This group will provide strategic oversight and direction to the entity boards.

The ten new entities will go live in a staged approach, from early 2025 to 1 July 2026, rather than the original start date of 1 July 2024.  

Read the Government's frequently asked questions about the entities(external link).

Support package

The Government initially proposed 'better off' funding for Councils under the water reforms. The first phase of the funding gave Councils $500 million. A planned second phase of funding would give Councils a further $1.5 billion. 

Under the reform reset, the $500 million package remains in place. This funding will be allocated to Councils as per current funding agreements.

The Government has decided not to go ahead with the $1.5 billion second phase of funding, to meet the cost of establishing 10 entities and to make sure the new entities do not begin with high levels of debt.

What the Government wants to achieve

The Government's main objective of the Affordable Water Reforms is to provide a more efficient and consistent way of delivering water 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 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 water services.

Climate change readiness

Increasing flooding events and sea-level rise will put pressure on water 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 water 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 water 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.

Giving effect to Te Mana o Te Wai

The Government wants to deliver on its Treaty of Waitangi obligations, including improving outcomes for iwi/Māori in relation to water service delivery and upholding Te Mana o Te Wai – the vital importance of water.

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.

How Christchurch City Council is involved

Our water network

Christchurch City Council is the largest council in Aotearoa New Zealand that directly owns and manages water infrastructure on behalf of the community.

We have a large and complex water network that includes pipes, pumps, well heads, treatment plants, reservoirs, and a complex stormwater system made up of everything from pipes and drains to roads, parks and wetlands.

Preparing for the transfer of services 

The Government’s water reform programme will see our water assets transfer to the new entity, alongside the water assets of 19 other South Island councils.

This is one of the largest reforms in New Zealand history. It will impact all parts of our organisation and we’re preparing now to ensure we get the best outcomes for our communities and staff. We’re working with the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) and their National Transition Unit (NTU) to ensure a smooth transition of services.

There are a number of outcomes we need to achieve before our assets are transferred. We’re organising and optimising our workforce, assets, operations, data, and finances now so we’re in the best shape possible for the transfer.

Opposition to water reform 

On 9 December 2021 the Council resolved to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to work cooperatively with at least 21 other co-signing councils to convince the Government to reconsider its plans to reform water services across New Zealand. This group is called Communities 4 Local Democracy (C4LD).

Since then, the Council has recommitted to its relationship with Ngā Papatipu Rūnanga. As part of this the Council has formally apologised to the rūnanga for its failure to consult with them before deciding to join C4LD.  The Council has also withdrawn from the group.

Next steps


The Government will now introduce legislation to allow for the reform's new timeframe before this year's general election.

The Water Services Legislation Bill and the Water Services Economic Efficiency and Consumer Protection Bill are both currently before Parliament and are largely unaffected by the changes to the number and boundaries of entities and their go live date. The bills will continue their progress through parliament. 

Working groups

Council staff are actively involved in numerous working groups at a national and regional level to support the transition.

News and updates





Water reform discussions under way(external link) 6 Aug 2020

Timeline of reform


  • 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.


  • Government inquiry into the Havelock North drinking-water contamination.

2017 to 2019

  • The Government's Three Waters review.

2019 to 2021

December 2019 to March 2021:

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



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


  • Water Services Bill introduced, containing details of a new regulatory system.
  • 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).


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



April to June:

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

June to July:

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

August to September:

  • Eight-week engagement period with the Government, to better understand the implications of reform for councils and communities.
  • The Water Services Bill is passed into law, becoming the Water Services Act 2021. The Act 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.


  • The Government announced it will introduce legislation to move ahead with setting up four independent entities to control drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services in New Zealand, as outlined in its proposal earlier in the year.
  • The decision means councils and communities will no longer have a choice about whether to be a part of the new entities; it will be mandated by the Government.


  • Taumata Arowai takes over from the Ministry of Health as New Zealand's drinking-water regulator.


  • Preparation for forming the new water services entities.


  • The Water Services Entities Bill was introduced to the House. 


  • The Water Services Economic Efficiency and Consumer Protection Bill was introduced to the House. 
  • Water Services Entities Bill given Royal Asset. 




  • Government announces major changes to New Zealand's affordable water reforms. 
  • Instead of four water entities, 10 water entities will take over the country's water infrastructure.
  •  The timeframe for the start date for the water entities is extended from 1 July 2024 to a staged approach of early 2025 to 1 July 2026.
  • The planned second phase of $1.5 billion in funding for councils will not go ahead.

2025 to 2026

The ten new Water Services Entities are to go live in a staged approach.