New Zealand’s Three Waters services and the future of the water supply
October 29, 2019
October 29, 2019
Proposed amendments to the National Environmental Standards for Sources of Human Drinking Water
By Jessica Grinter and Frances Lojkine
In New Zealand, The National Environmental Standards (NES) for Sources of Human Drinking Water have been in place since 2008, but during the latest round of Three Waters reform announcements in September 2019, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) proposed extensive amendments to these standards. While stakeholders can still comment on the proposed changes (with submissions closing very shortly on 31 October), we anticipate that the most intensive period of consultation on these changes is likely to come in the latter half of 2020.
The NES for Sources of Human Drinking Water are inextricably linked with other changes which have been foreshadowed through the Water Services Bill that was introduced to Parliament on 1 August 2019. We anticipate that the consultative process for the Water Services Bill—and the myriad of changes which that legislation will usher in if adopted—will be much longer and present more opportunities for dialogue than the current ‘Action for healthy waterways’ consultation package. The current package is primarily focused on the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and other instruments aimed at improving the health and well-being of freshwater bodies across New Zealand.
The Water Services Bill is focused on the delivery of Three Waters services, including the planning and management of infrastructure, governance of water resources, and end-of-pipe outcomes. The amended NES for Sources of Human Drinking Water (the focus of this article) will be the front runner for this wider legislative reform.
Before we can understand future policy direction, it is helpful to know where current approaches have come from. Following the contamination of the drinking water supply for Havelock North with Campylobacter in 2016, there was a major outbreak of the gastrointestinal disease. The subsequent government inquiry captured several significant lessons—lessons that were learned the hard way, but were vital in catalysing a major overhaul of the way we protect and manage human drinking water supplies in New Zealand.
Following the conclusion of the inquiry, the government pledged to introduce a new framework for drinking water, headed by an independent regulator. Initial proposals for the drinking water framework are presented in the ‘Action for healthy waterways’ discussion document released by MfE in September 2019. It is envisaged that the framework will be used as part of the consultative process to inform further policy discussions and refine proposals from mid-2020. In the meantime, drinking water supply is regulated in New Zealand via:
Wider changes associated with the Water Services Bill that will not necessarily be implemented through the NES could include:
An intensive round of stakeholder engagement on the Water Services Bill was completed in May 2019 with the government agencies responsible for various aspects of water services (such as the Ministry for Primary Industries, Department of Conservation, Ministry of Defence). Iwi groups, including Kahui Wai Māori (one of the government’s lead iwi stakeholder groups for consultations on freshwater issues since 2018), also joined the discussion.
The Department of Internal Affairs released a summary report for this engagement in June 2019, which highlighted a number of points raised by those groups involved in the discussions. We have identified the following points as being particularly relevant to the current consultation:
This is our final article concerning the recent ‘Action for healthy waterways’ policy proposals announced by the Ministry for the Environment. Along with the rest of the industry, we look forward to hearing the key position statements and issues identified by stakeholders in the consultation process, as well as working towards a consensus that will protect our freshwater resources for future generations.
We will be providing further commentary on issues relating to urban resources (such as stormwater and wastewater management) as further information regarding the government’s intentions for these issues becomes available later in the year. Watch this space for our take on these future developments.
In the meantime, our Urban Planning & Environmental Services and Water teams are available to provide assistance in understanding and implementing policy changes as they are gradually rolled out. Learn more about our team at: https://www.stantec.com/en/offices/new-zealand-locations-hub/new-zealand-people