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New Water Services Regulator Shines Light On Drinking Water

Bill Bayfield, Chief Executive of Taumata Arowai the new water services regulator, today announced the publication of its first Annual Drinking Water Regulation Report.

“While we have only been the drinking water regulator for a short time, we are starting as we mean to go on - by shining a light on the data,” says Mr. Bayfield.

Mr. Bayfield said that the report is an important tool for raising awareness about the quality and safety of drinking water.

“More transparency is needed, and as our reporting evolves, we will begin to better understand the state of drinking water in Aotearoa New Zealand,” says Mr. Bayfield.

“As the new water services regulator, we are building a new regulatory system, including compulsory reporting requirements. Our goal is to lift the performance of the sector to ensure that everyone has access to safe and reliable drinking water every day,” says Mr. Bayfield.

This report is a combination of data from the previous regulator the Ministry of Health and us covering 2021. Since the regulatory responsibility for drinking water transferred to Taumata Arowai on 15 November 2021, we have been building a better understanding of who provides drinking water to New Zealanders. There are 997 drinking water suppliers registered with Taumata Arowai, who own, manage, and operate 1,975 supplies which serve 85.4% of New Zealanders.

Most New Zealanders drink water from large council supplies (our 10 largest supplies serve 2.8 million New Zealanders). However, most supplies that councils own, manage, and operate are much smaller. There are only a handful of large supplies not owned by council or government. There are many supplies which serve small communities. These numbers highlight the need for a proportionate regulatory system that reflects the scale, complexity, and risk of these different supplies.

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“Our Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement Strategy has also just been published, which provides suppliers with an understanding of our regulatory approach, which takes into account the scale, complexity and risk of the all the different supplies.”, says Mr Bayfield.

This Drinking Water Regulation Report references the compliance information from the final Drinking Water Quality Annual Report 2020/21 (the 2020/21 Report) published by the Ministry of Health along with the notifications Taumata Arowai received over a six-week period from 15 November 2021 to 31 December 2021.

The 2020/21 Report did not include supplies of 100 people or fewer and self-supplied buildings, unregistered supplies, and domestic self-supplies. The 2020/21 Report told us that most registered drinking water supplies serving most New Zealanders (81.9% of the population) met the current Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand 2005 (revised 2018) (the Standards).

There were 296 supplies that did not meet the Standards, reasons including:

• bacteria detected which could cause immediate illness

• chemicals detected which could cause illness over time

• notices issued telling people to boil or not use their water. This occurs when monitoring indicates that water may not be safe to drink

• suppliers had not attempted one or more of their compliance requirements or had not attempted monitoring to take one or more of their samples. This indicated the suppliers may not have had sufficient people with the right skills to make sure they provided safe drinking water

• supplies with insufficient infrastructure to treat water to make it safe to drink. Planning, designing, and implementing this infrastructure will require investment from suppliers and could take years to complete.

From 15 November 2021 until the end of the calendar year (31 December 2021), 209 notifications from 127 supplies were received - including 27 boil water notices. Notifications were from across the country, including from 31 councils. Not all notifications indicate that there is unsafe drinking water – notifications are also received for planned and unplanned interruptions or precautionary notices.

This was the first-time notifications had been gathered from across Aotearoa, from both registered and unregistered supplies in real time. This level of engagement between water suppliers and the regulator will be vital in the future to build an effective regulatory system.

Mr. Bayfield said that he also wanted to impress upon the sector that we have a new and unique opportunity to do things differently with a reporting cycle covering the calendar year January-December, with data being collected from all registered supplies. This will provide greater transparency of performance across the water sector.

“A key requirement of the Water Services Act 2021 is that everyone operating under it must give effect to Te Mana o te Wai, to the extent it applies to their functions and duties. This obligation applies equally to Taumata Arowai and to all suppliers under the Act.”

“Having access to good information will be critical to support suppliers' decision making that reflects Te Mana o te Wai and investment decisions,” says Mr. Bayfield.”

The information and insights reported on through the Annual Drinking Water Regulation Report will grow over time as more supplies are registered in accordance with the Water Services Act 2021. Suppliers with supplies that were not previously registered with the Ministry of Health have until 15 November 2025 to do this.

All drinking water suppliers have a duty of care to ensure that the drinking water they provide is safe to drink. If members of the public believe their drinking water is not safe, the first thing they should do is raise their concern directly with their drinking water supplier.

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