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More details on the Government’s water quality watchdog

November 08, 2019

Contacts

Partners Padraig McNamara, Matt Conway, Gerald Lanning, Sally McKechnie, Jonathan Salter, Sarah Scott, James Winchester
Senior Associates Warren Bangma, Tim Fischer

Water management Government reform and public policy Local government

Last week, Health Minister Dr David Clark and Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta provided further detail on the creation of a drinking water regulator - the standalone Crown entity responsible for regulating drinking water and certain other functions in relation to wastewater and stormwater.

Creation of a standalone, dedicated drinking water regulator was a key recommendation of the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry. The Government has confirmed in this announcement that it agrees an independent regulator with “significant levels of capacity” is required to achieve a step-change in the performance of water regulation.

Summary - what you need to know

  • The regulator’s functions will not just be limited to drinking water, and will also include delivery of certain functions relating to wastewater and stormwater.
  • The regulator will not have responsibility for policy development. This will remain with existing Ministries and Departments.
  • A bill, likely to be called the Crown Entity (Water Services) Establishment Bill will be included in the Government’s legislative programme by the end of 2019.

Drinking water regulator - objectives and functions

The Cabinet Minute and Paper: Three Waters Review: Institutional Arrangements for a Drinking Water Regulator (30 September 2019), released on 25 October 2019 indicates that:

The drinking water regulator’s key statutory objectives will relate 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.
  • Recognising and providing for Te Mana o te Wai (the integrated and holistic wellbeing of a freshwater body, which is the fundamental concept in the draft national policy statement for freshwater management) with regard to drinking water.

The drinking water regulator’s functions will not just be limited to drinking water, and will also include delivery of certain functions relating to wastewater and stormwater (to be provided for under legislation). These are to include:

  • Providing oversight and operation of national standards for wastewater discharges and overflows.
  • Setting national performance metrics for wastewater and stormwater.
  • Collecting, analysing and publishing performance information provided by wastewater and stormwater operators.
  • Identifying and promoting national guidelines and good practices for wastewater and stormwater network design and management.
  • Providing input into national expectations for compliance, monitoring and enforcement approaches for wastewater and stormwater network design and management.
  • Identifying and monitoring emerging contaminants in drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.

How will it operate?

In terms of funding and operational matters it has been agreed that the Government’s proposed legislation will enable the new drinking water regulator to:

  • Recover costs from third parties, through fees, charges and/or levies.
  • Transfer current drinking water regulatory staff.

The Government had considered locating the drinking water regulator within an existing governmental organisation, with the most logical option being the Environmental Protection Agency. However, it preferred the option of creating a drinking water regulator in a new stand-alone entity with a focus solely on water to avoid the risk of this focus becoming “lost” in a larger organization with multiple responsibilities.

The drinking water regulator will be assisted by a Māori Advisory Group, established under legislation, to advise the regulator on how to uphold Te Mana o te Wai, and how to enable mātauranga, tikanga Māori and kaitiakitanga to be exercised. The board of the regulator will be required to have regard to this advice, and show how it has done this in its annual report.

The regulator will not have responsibility for creation of policy. Responsibility for this will remain with existing Ministries and Departments. The legislation will require the drinking water regulator to give effect to policy statements issued by Government.

The Government will create an Establishment Unit to ensure the drinking water regulator is ready to “go live” when the legislation is passed.

Next steps

A Bill, likely to be called the Crown Entity (Water Services) Establishment Bill will be included in the Government’s legislative programme by the end of 2019.

Local authorities, CCOs, and other interested parties will be given the opportunity to have their say when the Bill proceeds to the select committee.

Please get in touch with our contacts to discuss the drinking water regulator further and how it may impact you, or for assistance in preparing a submission on the Bill.