Three Waters Reform

Last updated: 01 Oct, 2021 10:54am

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What is the Three Waters Reform and what does it mean for Carterton?


What does three waters refer to?

Three Waters refers to drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater services. For most people in New Zealand, these are provided by Councils.

Drinking water
The water your family drinks from the tap has to be safe. Most New Zealanders get their water from Council supplies. This water comes from rivers and aquifers, and through treatment plants. The plants are designed to meet water standards, so homes and businesses enjoy safe water.

Millions of litres go to Wairarapa households every day.  Because about 1% of that is human and other waste, it contains many bacteria and viruses that could be harmful to human health. This is then treated at a wastewater treatment plant, and sent to irrigate land, or discharged to sea. Māori culture also places high value on avoiding contamination of water with wastewater.

The stormwater system is a network that drains the rain off of our roads, footpaths, and from our gutters, and diverts it into our streams, rivers and eventually out to sea. Unlike wastewater, which gets treated at a treatment plant, stormwater does not get treated. Everything that goes into the stormwater system will eventually end up at sea. 



There are a number of issues with water infrastructure (water supply, waste water, and stormwater) around the country, and the government is aiming to raise the standard. Our council is in a pretty good shape compared to many other councils. The government is inviting local councils to be part of this review, and co-design what this may look like in the future. The government has indicated they are looking at multi-regional (I.e. Lower North Island) organisations that manage water and council assets and debt.

To be part of that conversation, we needed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in 2020 outlining how local and central government will work together, which also entitled us to $1.84m of funding which we can put towards water supply, waste water, or storm water (but not towards projects which we have already budgeted for).

Key things to take into account:

  • The agreement is non-binding
  • The possibility of privatisation has been ruled out
  • The interests and well-being of local communities will be considered, and they will also be able to provide input in relation to the new entities
  • We will have a good idea of what these reforms will look like by May 2021, and at that stage our council will need to decide whether it wants to continue in the reform or pull out.

At the council’s September Infrastructure and Services Committee meeting, the committee agreed on the project items to be submitted in the delivery plan to the Department of Internal Affairs for approval on how to apply the $1.84m funding the council will be receiving as part of stage one of the Three Waters Reform.

What has Central Government asked of Councils and when will the public get a say?

Local authorities have been asked to review the reform package and the implications it has on our communities. Specifically, we have been asked to:

1. Understand the key features of the proposed model and how it is intended to work.

2. Apply the proposed model to our circumstances for today and the next 30 years

3. Consider the model in terms of service, finance and funding, workforce, delivery and capability and social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being.

August - October 2021 update

The 3 Wairarapa Councils are each working through the process of considering the Government’s Three Waters Reform Programme, including their $2.5 billion support package, and to provide feedback.

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

There are several aspects to consider including cost, environmental impact, water quality, growth in population and management of infrastructure. We also need to think about our assets, what they’re worth and at what stage they become a liability needing costly upgrades.

We still do not know the exact costs for each Council. What we do know is no matter which model is chosen, household costs for water are likely to go up due to the following changes taking place:

  • Taumata Arawai Drinking water standards,
  • The Water Services Bill currently going through Parliament
  • The proposed natural resources plan from GWRC
  • The national policy statement on freshwater management.

Whether councils join an entity or go it alone, the cost of meeting these new standards will rise.

We will be tabling our feedback to DIA at our public Policy and Strategy meeting on 26 September and will make the final version publicly available to our residents after 1 October.

What are the questions we are asking DIA?

We’re still analysing all the information, but here are some questions we already have:

  • What will the drinking water and long-term wastewater irrigation standards be in the future and what will we need to meet them?
  • What may happen with private water suppliers and what potential impact may this have for the Territorial Authority?
  • What are the details regarding future stormwater requirements?
  • Where do water races fit into the proposed reforms?
  • How do we best involve Iwi in the decision making?
  • How does Council retain autonomy over growth decisions and infrastructure prioritisation?
  • What is the impact on the proposed reforms should major Councils such as Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch opt out?
  • What is the process after 1 October.
Our draft feedback to DIA, reports to Council and draft letter to ratepayers

For a summary statement on the Three Waters Reform process click here 

For the 29 September Policy and Strategy Committee agenda containing a report from council officers and the draft feedback letter to DIA click here

For the draft letter to all ratepayers summarising our feedback to DIA click here 

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