Clean drinking water is crucial to public health. The outbreak of campylobacter in Havelock North in 2016, and the subsequent Inquiry and recommendations in 2017, highlighted the risks of poor water quality to human health and community well-being.

Concerns were raised at this Inquiry about low levels of compliance, and the monitoring of drinking water and environmental regulations.  Subsequently a government review of the three waters system is being undertaken.  The first stage of the review was completed at the end of 2017, while the second stage started earlier this year. 

The first stage considered the issues and opportunities with the three waters system, and highlighted the challenges facing the sector.  The main challenges identified from this stage of the review include:

  • Meeting community expectations and regulatory requirements in regards to water quality, treatment and management
  • The ability to replace ageing infrastructure or fund and mange new infrastructure
  • The declining rating bases in some areas, and high growth in others
  • The high seasonal demand for three waters services in small tourism centres
  • The ability to adapt to climate change and adverse natural events.

Studies have been completed to date by Beca, MartinJenkins and Castalia.  In addition to the research and engagement undertaken by the Department of Internal Affairs.  The Office of the Auditor-General also released a research report in September.

This additional research has highlighted the challenges of multiple players involved in the regulatory environment and the complexity of regulation, monitoring and service delivery; funding and financing including the costs associated with changes to water standards and achieving compliance, and the costs associated with the maintenance, repair and the replacement of infrastructure.

The second stage of the review is focused on the regulatory regime and service delivery arrangements.  It is concerned with public health, the environmental performance of water services, and regulation, oversight and disclosure. 

The major outcomes that the Government is seeking from the review are:

  • Safe, acceptable (taste, colour, smell) and reliable drinking water
  • Better environmental performance for our water services
  • Efficient, sustainable, resilient and accountable water services
  • Achieving these aims in ways our communities can afford their water bills.