Three Waters Review - Earlier progress updates

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Progress update – August 2019

In July, the Government approved a suite of regulatory reforms to help ensure safe drinking water, and deliver improved environmental outcomes from New Zealand’s wastewater and stormwater systems (a link to the joint announcement from the Ministers of Local Government and Health is available at: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/portfolio/labour-led-government-2017-2020/local-government).

A new regulatory framework for drinking water will include:

  • an extension of the regulatory coverage to all drinking water suppliers, except individual household self-suppliers;
  • a multi-barrier approach to drinking water safety, including mandatory disinfection of water supplies, with exemptions only in appropriate circumstances;
  • stronger obligations on water suppliers and local authorities to manage risks to sources of drinking water; and
  • strengthened compliance, monitoring and enforcement of drinking water regulation.
  • While regional councils will remain the primary regulators for the environment, there will be stronger central oversight of wastewater and stormwater regulation, including:
  • requirements for wastewater and stormwater operators to report annually on a set of national environmental performance measures;
  • national good practice guidelines for the design and management of wastewater and stormwater networks; and
  • monitoring of emerging contaminants in wastewater and stormwater, and coordinating national responses where necessary.

A new dedicated water regulator will be established to oversee the regulatory regime. The regulator will have a range of responsibilities and functions, including sector leadership; standards setting; compliance, monitoring and enforcement; capability building; information, advice and education; and performance reporting. The scope, roles and institutional form of the regulator (including whether to include regulation of all three waters within a single regulator, or separate entities) will be the subject of further Cabinet consideration in September this year.

The majority of these reforms will be implemented through a Water Services Bill. The Government is aiming to introduce this Bill by the end of the year, with possible enactment by mid-2020. The legislation will include transitional arrangements to allow water suppliers to adjust to the regulations, with support from the new regulator, if necessary.

Full details about these decisions are available in the Cabinet paper and associated Regulatory Impact Assessment ‘Strengthening the regulation of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater’. See: Key Documents.

Further information about the next steps for three waters reform is available in the Cabinet paper ‘A plan for three waters reform’. 
See: Key Documents

Progress update – June 2019:

In May, the Three Waters Review completed its targeted stakeholder engagement programme relating to regulatory proposals for water. 
A report summarising feedback can be read below.

As background, the November 2018 Cabinet Paper Future state of the three waters system: regulation and service delivery set out a timetable for three waters reform, including such engagement. Between March and May 2019, an engagement programme involving officials from the Department of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for the Environment sought expert views from a range of sectors, including local government, health, environment, iwi/Māori, rural and the water industry. The purpose of the engagement was to test and refine emerging three waters regulatory proposals. The engagement was targeted to expertise likely to enhance the quality and accuracy of further policy work.

The cross-agency review team has now compiled a high-level summary of feedback and suggestions received during nine regional workshops, and in other meetings and briefings on the emerging proposals. The proposals to which it refers have not been before Cabinet and material in it does not represent Government policy. The report also signals proposals on which feedback indicated a need for clarification or further work. That work has been ongoing. Cabinet is expected to make initial decisions on associated proposals and the regulation of three waters in mid-2019.

Progress update – March 2019:

The Three Waters November 2018 progress update outlined the direction of the review, following the most recent Cabinet decisions. It identified as the immediate priority detailed policy work on the shape and form of proposed new regulatory arrangements for drinking water and environmental performance of wastewater and stormwater systems.

The Review team, including representatives from the Ministry of Health, the Ministry for the Environment* and the Department of Internal Affairs, will be undertaking targeted engagement over March and early April 2019 on related emerging high-level policy proposals.

A series of targeted workshops is engaging with a range of individuals and organisations with operational and technical expertise of implementing, operating and managing drinking water, wastewater and/or stormwater systems. The purpose of the workshops is to discuss the emerging regulatory proposals and to receive feedback to inform further policy work and subsequent advice to the Government.

Participants have been invited from across the health, environment, local government, consumer and water sectors. Iwi/Māori involvement and perspectives are an integral component in the workshops and associated discussions so that policy development has the benefit of iwi, hapū and Māori expertise and knowledge.

The workshops are not covering service delivery arrangements for water, which is part of a longer conversation with the local government and water sectors.

In addition to the targeted engagement workshops, the Review team will engage with local government reference groups and other representative groups from the health, environment, local government and water sectors on the emerging proposals.

There will also be further engagement with iwi/Māori representative organisations and the Review will undertake case studies of predominantly Māori communities facing three waters issues.

An outline of the emerging high-level policy proposals for discussion in the engagement workshops be viewed below. Other interested parties wishing to provide feedback can send it to the Three Waters Review team: threewaters@dia.govt.nz

It is expected that Cabinet will consider policy advice and proposals for new regulatory arrangements in June this year.


The Three Waters Review is a separate but related work programme to the Ministry for the Environment’s Essential Freshwater programme. Essential Freshwater is focused on establishing an integrated freshwater management system that ensures all discharges and water users are contributing to the achievement of agreed catchment and regional-level freshwater outcomes.

Three waters questions relate to how best to achieve safety and improved environmental outcomes in relation to largely, but not exclusively, council-controlled drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems. Emerging three waters regulatory proposals will be designed to be consistent with Essential Freshwater policy options.

Progress update - November 2018:

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Health Minister David Clark have announced (November 2018) work to overhaul three waters regulation as part of the Three Waters Review. This is part of an ongoing reform programme to transform drinking water, wastewater and stormwater. The programme is focused on collaborating with the local government sector, the water sector and other stakeholders to meet the three-waters challenges facing it. These include funding pressures, rising environmental standards, climate change, seasonal pressure from tourism, and the recommendations of the Havelock North Inquiry.

Direction of the review:

  • Regulatory arrangements for drinking water and wastewater: the immediate priority for the review is the detailed policy work on the overarching shape and form of regulatory arrangements for drinking water and wastewater. The Ministers of Local Government, Health, and the Environment intend to take detailed proposals on this to Cabinet in June 2019. 
  • Service delivery and economic regulation: this is part of a longer ongoing conversation with local government and the water and infrastructure sectors. Options for further investigation have been identified and detailed advice to enable consideration of their relative merits will be put to Cabinet towards the end of 2019.   
  • Engagement: central government, through the cross-agency project team, is working with councils, iwi/Māori and stakeholders with an interest in three waters services to engage on options for the shape and form of the regulatory arrangements, and to inform the ongoing conversation relating to service delivery and economic regulation. 

Full details are available in the Cabinet Paper Future state of the three waters system: regulation and service delivery. See: Key Documents.