Local Government Minister signals need to move to a new regulatory system for water services

Local Government Minister signals need to move to a new regulatory system for water services

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta says there is a need for a new regulatory system for water services - the so-called 'three waters' of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services.

She told a Local Government NZ Water Summit in Wellington on Wednesday, however, that there are no pre-determined solutions and the Government wanted an open conversation about what to do next.

"However a bottom line for this Government is that there will be continued public ownership of existing three waters infrastructure.”

The inquiry into the contamination problems at Havelock North had made significant recommendations – both to overhaul drinking water regulation and also how to think differently about delivering water services, Mahuta said. 

"What is clear that we need a step change to reduce the risk of another Havelock North tragedy."

The Summit featured national and international speakers exploring issues around drinking water regulation, funding for three waters infrastructure, alternative options for the delivery of water services and challenges in freshwater management.

“Our houses are not habitable without high quality reliable drinking water and wastewater services. Our towns are not liveable without stormwater services. Our health and environment depend upon these services – the “three waters” system," Mahuta said.

“The Three Waters Review, led by the Department of Internal Affairs, has found that all three waters services to New Zealanders are inconsistent and patchy.   This includes wastewater and stormwater, which can have a real impact on the environment.

“The benefits of a better three waters system is that it will bring together core aspects of the economy, health and the environment. We want to ensure that we have clean drinking water, an efficient delivery system and environmentally sensitive options for water treatment. 

“A question before us now is how we will respond to the funding challenges to do this – particularly as we move out to the regions, where some councils are struggling to keep pace with the pressures before them. Cost pressures are not the sole motivation to do things differently, to ensure we have thriving regional economic growth. It is also important to ensure better utilisation of our water resource and assure ourselves that we have future proofed core infrastructure for liveable cities and housing development. We need all stakeholders engaged in the scale of change required.”

The Minister said that it was critical that all stakeholders were engaged in the three waters discussion to meet these important challenges. 

“I want New Zealanders to have a conversation about the benefits of an aggregated water service across the motu,” Mahuta said.

“I note that Local Government New Zealand is also looking at the three waters in their Water 2050 project and this is a valuable input into the conversation and the shape of the change ahead.

LGNZ’s Water 2050: Quality – Review of the framework for water quality discussion paper released on Wednesday has identified three key issues for New Zealand’s framework for water quality, and points to opportunities for change that could be a focus under the Government’s Three Waters Review.

LGNZ’s review of the regulatory framework considers how we can better meet the quality of freshwater through environmental standards and protect the quality of our drinking water through specific health-related standards.

“The key finding from our review is that the regulatory framework for fresh water and drinking water does not take into account adequately the costs for communities to meet these standards,” says LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“There also needs to be better understanding of the costs and associated funding to meet these. Councils have competing priorities on water quality standards and we need to work with central government to agree what the priorities are that need to be addressed.”

LGNZ’s Quality discussion paper identifies five key opportunities for change that could result in better drinking and freshwater quality.

“If new standards for water quality are set we need to understand the costs, how we fund these and whether communities can afford them on their own. We need to partner to meet these quality and funding challenges so we are all part of a single system, while also recognising our respective roles and responsibilities.”

The Quality discussion paper is the second from LGNZ’s Water 2050 project, which seeks to develop an integrated water policy framework. It will be followed by a discussion paper on Cost and Funding, which considers funding options for water infrastructure and an issues paper on water infrastructure that will focus on the costs and investment challenges of rising standards, impacts of climate change and new regulation.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

4 Comments

You cannot argue with the Minister’s view that these three areas of our water services are a core and vital element for every household, business, farm activity every hour every day. One therefore wonders how the importance of this consideration has escaped the Christchurch City Council for over seven years post EQs. Instead priority in terms of expenditure is loaded towards empty cycle lanes and automated lights to
co-ordinate the flow of hard to find cyclists. Main thoroughfare redesign of a street that was doing just fine, but now the retailers have scarpered. A statue in the river. Consultancy by the $millions for a convention centre and nary a sod of turf turned. A redesign of the CBD one way system that was not all that bad but now is outrightly farcical. Oh how some good citizens would love to have good clean unchlorinated tap water, reliable waste water connections and storm water that didn’t flood their sections. Go to it CCC, from rooms without windows it’s always easy to decide where the priorities are isn’t it. But for the sake of the people, perhaps the new Minister could have a look and a word.

Last time anyone cared about pipes & ducts was in the movie Brazil by Terry Gilliam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRfoIyx8KfU Nowadays it is all high cost, lots of flash, low function, less accessibility, urban design with ribbon cutting & celebration party projects. Or in the case of the Hamilton City Council how to get a better view from their office when sitting down at their desk by removing a safety balustrade from a balcony. In Dunedin's case, (much like Christchurch) streets get flooded with sewage & there is extremely poor piping, but it is more fashionable to spend on cycleways that will be flooded and washed out due to poor road design & less central access in order to build a 20mil walking bridge to nowhere (which is already facilitated by a road, multiple footpaths and another bridge). In Wellington... you do not want to know about Wellington... it would make any engineer cry. All councils pulling down more debt, some looking at rate hikes over 5% in the first and proceeding years, selling off money making assets reducing the council income overall, and on top of that raising their debt ceilings to boot. Worst financial and infrastructure management since they gave a bunch of crayons to kids and told them to imagine a city on paper, (which may include jelly beans and houses built out of candy).

Of course they are no longer councils. They are corporates and we all know how big corporates treat minority shareholders, except in this case they are called ratepayers. There it is.

Improvement in this area is critically important for our economy, our public health and our reputation.

I'm not at all neo-liberal but in this instance we have to introduce a user-pays structure for treated water and polluter pays for wastewater disposal. If something has no price it has no value - at least as far as business decision-making goes (I do believe the natural environment has intrinsic value....)

Third World countries have spent the last 60 years trying to improve water quality and public health, knowing full well those things are the basis of human prosperity and productivity. We on the other hand seem to increasingly think that public health just "happens" and does not need to be maintained or paid for. Just wait until the first tourist dies in NZ from water contamination and it will be game over for our tourist industry and international reputation.

The terrible issues in Havelock North and Christchurch are warning shots that we would do well to listen to. No more parochial belief in the natural cleanliness of ancient aquifers, no more anti-science BS about chlorine poisoning, and recognition that our infrastructure needs to be better funded if we want to live in a Developed country rather a place where you risk disease & death each time you brush your teeth.