31 Jul 2019

New govt regulator to have 'final say' on safe drinking water

6:00 pm on 31 July 2019

The government is proposing radical changes to the way drinking water is managed in this country, with a national regulator setting new water standards.

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Photo: Michael Heim/ 123rf

A dedicated water watchdog was one of the key recommendations from the inquiry into 2016 Havelock North water crisis, which was linked to four deaths and left more than 5000 people ill with camplyobacter.

The regulator, covering all suppliers apart from individual households that have their own sources, will set standards and have monitoring and enforcement powers.

A Water Services Bill will be introduced before the end of the year, with possible enactment in the middle of next year, and suppliers will have up to five years to adjust.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said the responsibility for clean water has for too long been split between too many agencies, resulting in fractured and ineffective delivery.

"That's not giving people the solutions they need to trust their water supplies. Today's proposals, featuring the new regulator and regulations, will ensure coherent, safe drinking water supplies with additional oversight of wastewater and stormwater services," she said.

She said Cabinet will soon decide whether storm and waste water will also come under the regulator.

Ms Mahuta is leading the Three Waters Review alongside Minister of Health David Clark and Minister for the Environment David Parker.

Dr Clark, who spearheaded the response to the Havelock North outbreak, said public safety was a non-negotiable priority.

"Immediately following the Havelock North Inquiry Stage 2 Report we began implementing its recommendations to increase public safety while the Three Waters review worked through the longer-term programme of reform options," Dr Clark said in a statement.

"Today's announcement means that the new water regulator will have the final say on safe drinking water."

Key features from today's announcement include:

  • a dedicated water regulator
  • a new Water Services Bill
  • extending regulatory coverage to all water suppliers, except individual household self-suppliers
  • strengthened government stewardship of wastewater and stormwater services, with Regional Councils remaining primary regulators for the environment
  • transitional arrangements of up to five years to allow water suppliers to adjust to the regulations, if necessary with support from the new regulator.

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