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.

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

However, councils around the country are facing a number of challenges, including large debt and affordability issues, complying with safety standards and environmental expectations, building resilience to natural hazards and climate change into the three waters networks, and 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.

The reforms are intended to address these issues and opportunities highlighted by the Government's inquiry into the 2016 Havelock North incident, and also its Three Waters Review.

The proposal is to re-size local government’s three waters services into a small number of multi-regional entities, with a bottom line of public ownership.

The exact size, shape and design of these entities are still being considered.

From late 2021, all drinking-water suppliers that service more than a single household will be regulated under a dedicated water services regulator called Taumata Arowai, and there will be greater penalties for any breaches of New Zealand's Drinking Water Standards.

The Government has signalled that wastewater and possibly stormwater services will also be delivered differently in the future, but that has yet to be considered.

In July 2020, the Government announced a stimulus 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 stimulus package and to explore possible new ways of delivering our three waters services in the future. The MoU does not commit us to change the way we currently deliver our water services, either now or in the future.

Christchurch City Council is also part of the Three Waters Steering Committee, with representatives from central and local government overseeing and providing input into the design of the proposed service delivery model.

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.

The Government has said it will support local government in undertaking a national and local conversation on the reforms ahead of a decision to proceed with reform. 

We will be sharing more information later in 2021 when it becomes clearer what the changes could mean for Christchurch. Public consultation will play an important part in the Council's decision-making process.

Learn more about the Government's Three Waters Reform Programme:


Timeline of reform


Government inquiry into the Havelock North drinking-water contamination.


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 stimulus package announced to improve water services delivery and to explore water reform in partnership.

Aug 2020

Christchurch City Council signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government to receive its stimulus package and to explore water reform options.

Apr - Jun 2021

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

Jun - Aug 2021

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

Dec 2021

Christchurch City Council to make a decision about whether to participate in the final reform proposal (including public consultation).


Preparation for forming the new water services entities.


New entities start providing water services.