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A milestone for drinking water safety

Hon Nanaia Mahuta

Minister of Local Government

11 December 2019


The Water Services Regulator Bill - Taumata Arowai a milestone for drinking water safety

The Water Services Regulator Bill – Taumata Arowai , introduced to Parliament today, is a milestone for drinking water safety in New Zealand and will help improve environmental outcomes for urban waterways, rivers and lakes.

“This is a breakthrough for New Zealanders in terms of providing safe drinking water throughout the country and improving on the performance of our wastewater and stormwater networks that manage, treat and discharge water back into the environment,” Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.

“This Bill implements our decision to create a new regulatory body to oversee, administer and enforce a new drinking water regulatory system. It establishes the Water Services Regulator – Taumata Arowai – as a new Crown agent and is part of a broader package of reforms.

“The proposals we are taking forward have been a result of robust discussion and advice with the local government, water specialist sector and Iwi.

“I would like to acknowledge the crucial contribution of local government and the wider water sector in this ground-breaking step towards reform.”

The Minister, who is leading the cross-agency Three Waters Review, added that a complementary Bill to enact the Regulator’s detailed functions and enforcement powers will be introduced early in 2020.

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“The Havelock North campylobacter outbreak made more than 5000 residents sick, killed up to four people, and left many others with long-term and debilitating illnesses through drinking public water supplies. The subsequent Inquiry recommended the establishment of a dedicated drinking water regulator.

“The Government has made clear all along its determination to put the health and safety of New Zealanders first. We are fixing the failed regulatory system that not only allowed this tragedy to happen, but results in an estimated further 34,000 people getting sick annually from their drinking water.

“That is unacceptable, and this Bill delivers on a key pillar of our reform programme,’’ Nanaia Mahuta said.

The Water Services Regulator Bill - Taumata Arowai will set up a Regulator that:

has an organisational structure that prioritises drinking water regulation and safety;

helps build and maintain public confidence in drinking water safety;

builds capability among drinking water suppliers by promoting education and training;

ensures that tikanga Māori and Te Mana o te Wai with regard to drinking water will be enabled and supported; and contributes to improved environmental outcomes for fresh water by providing central oversight and guidance relating to wastewater and stormwater networks.

“I look forward in the months ahead to advancing and consolidating three waters reform through further collaboration,’’ said Nanaia Mahuta.

Questions and Answers

Q: Why do we need a new drinking water regulator?

A:As recommended by the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry, a dedicated drinking water regulator is necessary to oversee the entire drinking water system, help prevent tragedies such as the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak, and ensure New Zealand communities have access to safe and acceptable drinking water.

Q: Why has the Government chosen to create a new Crown entity as the water regulator?

A:A standalone Crown entity will enable a dedicated focus on drinking water quality through an entity with an organisational structure that relates solely to water. It will also give confidence in its regulatory activities to all parties in the sector.

Q: It is described as a ‘new Crown agent’ : what does that mean?

A: Crown agents are standalone public bodies that operate at arm’s-length from Ministers but are still an integral part of the State sector. They are statutory Crown entities that are required to give effect to government policy directions.

Q: What will it do?

A: The Regulator will have a range of objectives and functions, including:

· protecting and promoting public health outcomes and drinking water safety;

· administering the drinking water regulatory system; and

· building capability among drinking water suppliers, and across the wider water industry, including by promoting collaboration, education and training.

The Regulator’s role will include providing oversight of, and advice on, the regulation, management and environmental performance of wastewater and stormwater networks, and promoting public understanding of these matters.

Q: What will it be called?

A: The Regulator is to be called Taumata Arowai.

Q: What does Taumata Arowai mean?

A: Taumata is a term used for a summit, symposium or congress. Arowai is a compound word composed of ‘aro’ and ‘wai’. Aro means to give attention to, to focus on, or be in the presence of. Wai is water.

Q: Why was the name Taumata Arowai chosen?

A:Taumata conveys the weight and responsibility, as well as the authority, that it will have. The entire name gives a clear indication of the focus of the Regulator.

Q: Why is there a water regulator establishment unit?

A: In late September 2019, Cabinet agreed to establish the new Regulator as a Crown agent. It also agreed to the creation of a unit within the Department of Internal Affairs to do preparatory work towards the establishment of the Regulator.

Q: What is the role of the establishment unit?

A: More specifically, the unit will carry out functions relating to transition and implementation planning; building new regulatory functions; establishing an operating model; and initiating a communications and stakeholder relations function.

Q: When will a new regulator come into being?

A:A water regulator establishment unit is working within the Department of Internal Affairs to design and set up the regulator. The Taumata Arowai – Water Services Regulator Bill, which enables the establishment of the Regulator, is expected to be enacted around August 2020, making it a legal entity


Q: How will its powers be determined?

A: A separate Bill, the Water Services Bill, to be introduced in early 2020, will give effect to decisions to implement system-wide reforms to the regulation of drinking water and source water, and targeted reforms to improve the regulation and performance of wastewater and stormwater networks. The Regulator’s detailed functions and powers are located in that Bill.

Q: What happens with water regulation while the Regulator is being set up?

A: Until the Regulator is fully functional with supporting legislation, the status quo applies. This means drinking water regulation will continue to be the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.

Q. How is it proposed that the Regulator reflect and protect Treaty of Waitangi and Māori interests?

A: The Bill includes several provisions that recognise and respect the Crown’s responsibility to consider and provide for Māori interests. For example: one of the regulator’s objectives is to protect and promote Te Mana o te Wai, to the extent that it applies to the functions and duties of the organisation; board members will be required to, collectively, have knowledge and experience relating to the Treaty of Waitangi and its principles, and perspectives of Māori and tikanga Māori;

A Māori Advisory Group will be established to advise the regulator on Māori interests and knowledge, including how to interpret, protect and promote Te Mana o te Wai, and how to enable mātauranga Māori, tikanga Māori, and kaitiakitanga to be exercised; and the operating principles of the Regulator including partnering and engaging early and meaningfully with Māori. A Māori Advisory Group will be established to advise the Regulator on these matters.

Q: What steps will the Regulator take to address the specific issues of the many small drinking water supplies around the country?

A: The Regulator’s establishment unit is aware of the issues relating to rural water supplies and will work closely with this sector. This includes establishment of a rural drinking water advisory group early next year to advise on relevant issues.

Q: Why are small rural schemes to be included in the new regulatory system?

A: The Government is determined that rural communities, including those with small rural drinking water supplies, have access to water that is as safe to drink as their town and city cousins. Rural communities should not be second-class citizens when it comes to the quality of their drinking water.


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