16 August 2021

Regional response to Government’s Three Water Reform Programme

Masterton, Carterton and South Wairarapa District Councils are each working through the process of considering the Government’s Three Waters Reform Programme, first announced a year ago.

The programme would see future governance and management of drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater across New Zealand managed by four water entities. The Government recently passed the Taumata Arowai Water Services Regulator Act, establishing the new regulator, and introduced the Water Services Bill.

“We have been given until 1 October to consider the government’s proposals, including their $2.5 billion support package, and to give feedback to strengthen their proposal,” Carterton Mayor Greg Lang said.

“At this stage, we believe that Councils can opt out of being part of the new entities, but this hasn’t been confirmed. However, I want to be clear that the 1 October date is not a deadline for making a decision. We are using this time to gather as much information from Central Government so we can better understand the long-term impacts these reforms will have on our communities.

“We don’t know what DIA will be asking of Councils at the end of the six weeks, but we will be able to give our feedback and have a better understanding of when the Government will start its community consultation.”

The Water Services Bill, currently going through the select committee process, would give Taumata Arowai a set of tools to ensure that drinking water safety standards are achieved across New Zealand.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said there would inevitably be changes for councils and communities.

“The status quo isn’t an option. Whether we decide to opt in or out, the new regulations proposed in the Water Services Bill will require all councils to comply. This compliance will require more investment in infrastructure and services.”

The Government has indicated strengthened compliance measures could include:

  • Taumata Arowai ensuring stringent compliance with drinking water safety standards.
  • Taumata Arowai working alongside regional councils to provide national oversight on the performance of wastewater and stormwater networks.
  • Economic regulation to provide water consumers with assurance of fair and affordable pricing, and ensure transparency, efficiencies, and appropriate levels of investment across three waters services.

“These are some of the things we are discussing at council tables across the region, to assess the likely impact on our communities,” Mayor Patterson says.

“While the decisions will be made on a council-by-council basis, decisions we make will have an impact on our broader region. This is a complex proposal, and the impacts of our decision will have a lasting effect on our communities.”

South Wairarapa District Mayor Alex Beijen is keen to ensure this process is not rushed through without the right information being available to residents. “Decisions that impact the wider region need full community consultation, with relevant information made available – these changes will be very long lasting so any decisions made must be well-informed.”

In March 2021 Taumata Arowai was established as a Crown entity, and will become New Zealand’s drinking water regulator, replacing the Ministry of Health, when the Water Services Bill is expected to be passed in the second half of 2021.

The Government has stated there will be an ongoing programme of engagement with local government, iwi, the wider water services sector, and communities of interest throughout the reform programme.

The three Wairarapa Councils will provide regular updates as the three Wates Reform Programme progresses. Full details on Government’s proposals are available on the DIA website here.