Questions and Answers: the new water regulator as a Crown entity

The regulator

Q: Why do we need a new drinking water regulator?

A: As recommended by the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry, an independent drinking water regulator is necessary to oversee the entire drinking water system, help prevent tragedies such as the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak and ensure New Zealand communities have access to safe and acceptable drinking water.

Q: Why has the Government chosen to create a new Crown entity as the water regulator?

A: A standalone Crown entity will enable a dedicated focus on drinking water quality through an entity with an organisational structure that relates solely to water. Its statutory independence will also give confidence in its regulatory activities to all parties in the sector.

Q: What will it do?

A: The regulator will have a range of statutory objectives relating to:

  • protecting and promoting public health outcomes and drinking water safety;
  • administering the drinking water regulatory system;
  • building capability among drinking water suppliers, and across the wider water industry, including by promoting collaboration, education and training; and,
  • Te Mana o te Wai. 

Q: Will the regulator be for drinking water only or for wastewater and stormwater as well?

A: The Ministry for the Environmentis reviewing national standards for wastewater and stormwater.The new regulator is primarily a drinking water regulator, but with a remit for some centralised wastewater and stormwater regulatory functions to allow it to contribute to improved environmental outcomes for fresh water. These functions include:

  • providing oversight and advice relating to implementation of national standards for wastewater and stormwater;
    • monitoring and reporting on the performance of wastewater and stormwater networks; and
    • preparing and promoting national guidelines and good practices relating to the design and management of wastewater and stormwater networks.

Q: What will be the role of regional councils when the new regulator is in place?

A: Regional councils will remainthe primary regulators of discharges from wastewater and stormwater networks, but there will be stronger central oversight of wastewater and stormwater regulation through the new regulator.

Q: When will a new regulator come into being?

A: Work to establish the regulator will begin immediately through a unit within the Department of Internal Affairs. A regulator will also require new legislation, which will be introduced in the coming months and is expected to be passed in 2020.


Q: Will the regulator’s work add to the costs faced by local authorities/communities?

A: It isacknowledged that it may be challenging for some suppliers to comply with their regulatory obligations, and this will be managed by allowing for assistance and time to achieve compliance, in a way that is proportionate to supplier capability and the complexity and risks of their water supply systems.

In late 2019, Cabinet will consider advice on  the wider funding and capability issues associated with water service delivery,  and how we might address them.

In addition, the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into local government funding and financing is looking into the wider financial challenges across local government. 

Q: What level of costs are councils likely to face to upgrade their drinking water infrastructure to meet new regulatory requirements?

A: The estimated capital costs for larger drinking water suppliers (serving more than 500 people) to comply with new regulatory requirements may range from $277 million to $286 million. It’s assumed that council drinking water suppliers, which are already regulated, are likely to have already included costs in their long-term plans, but some may need to bring planned expenditure forward.

The cost implications for smaller suppliers (serving fewer than 500 people) are less certain, and may range from an estimated $150 million to $400 million in capital expenditure. That’s why the reforms are being phased in over five years, so that the regulator can work with the smaller suppliers to help them achieve compliance.

Q: How will councils be able to meet these costs?

A: The challenge we face is that some of our smaller councils and communities, and many non-council drinking water suppliers (including marae), are not well-positioned to meet the costs of upgrading their three waters infrastructure.

We need to ensure all communities can receive safe, reliable, culturally-acceptable three waters services in an affordable way. This may include thinking differently about how these services are paid for.

We  want to help councils that are discussing their own collaborative approaches to improving drinking water delivery for their areas.

To help remove financial barriers, this Government has agreed to consider, on a case-by-case basis, proposals from regions for funding to support collaborative water service delivery efforts. For eligible funding applications, we will co-invest with local government up to 50 per cent of the costs associated with investigating collaborative approaches to water service delivery. 

Waste and stormwater

Q: Are there going to be minimum standards for wastewater and stormwater discharges?

 A: There will be targeted reforms to improve performance monitoring of our wastewater and stormwater systems. The reforms also include a proposed new national environmental standard for wastewater discharges and overflows. The Government is consulting on this proposed new standard as part of the Action for Healthy Waterways discussion document, which sets out proposals on the national direction for our essential fresh water.

As relatively little data exists about how stormwater systems impact our environment, we are not looking at setting stormwater standards right now. Instead we will focus first on collecting information on performance and promoting best practice.

Q: Why are some of the environmental regulations being progressed through a different process to drinking water?

A: Due to their environmental focus, it is appropriate for some of the targeted wastewater and stormwater initiatives to be progressed in tandem with the Essential Freshwater programme and given effect to through regulations under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) or other legislation.


Q: Will marae and papakāinga have to comply with the drinking water  requirements?

A: Yes. All drinking water suppliers (except domestic self-suppliers) will be required to comply with the new regulatory requirements for drinking water. 

Q: Will the government provide financial or other assistance to help them comply?

A: Advice will be provided later thisyear on funding arrangements, which will include whether and what assistance might be provided.  It may be challenging for some suppliers to comply with their obligations, and this will be managed by allowing for assistance and time to achieve compliance, in a way that is proportionate to supplier capability and the complexity and risks of their water supply systems.

Q: How long will they have to transition to the new regime?

A: Further work is needed to determine the most practicable approach to bringing suppliers not currently covered into the regulatory system, particularly very small suppliers. It is expected that the regulator would work with marae and papakāinga that are supplying drinking water to transition them into the regulatory system within five years following enactment of the new Water Services Bill.

Q. How is it proposed that the drinking water regulator reflect and protect Treaty of Waitangi and Māori interests?

A: There are several elements that have been agreed to which it is considered collectively reflect and protect Treaty of Waitangi and Māori interests. These include legislation specifying the regulator will support Te Mana o te Wai.  The legislation will also specify that the operating principles of the regulator will include the need to engage early with Māori; and that it will need to understand, support, and enable mātauranga Māori and tikanga Māori and kaitiakitanga to be exercised.

A Māori Advisory Group will be established to advise the regulator on these matters.

Q: What consultation have you done with Iwi/Māori over this?

A: Targeted consultation with iwi/Māori representative groups helped inform the advice and decisions recently considered by Cabinet.