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Bill To Transform Drinking Water Safety Passes

The Government today passed legislation that will transform drinking water safety and improve environmental outcomes for our wastewater and stormwater networks.

“The Water Services Act gives Taumata Arowai the legal authority to carry out its duties as New Zealand’s dedicated water regulator. This represents a major transformational advance for the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders,’’ said Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

“It will also make a significant contribution to urban and coastal water quality through a national oversight role in wastewater, stormwater and trade waste.’’

The Havelock North drinking water contamination event in 2016 drew the nation’s attention to the gravity of the problems facing drinking water in Aotearoa New Zealand. Around 5000 people became ill, with up to four deaths associated with this event. The economic costs have been estimated at $21 million.

The subsequent Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry found the contamination was a result of systemic failure across service provision, regulation and source protection – all aspects of the system were implicated.

This Act fulfils a major part of the Government’s response to the inquiry report and moves the regulation of water standards from the Ministry of Health into a dedicated agency. Taumata Arowai will work in concert with the proposed three reforms to ensure New Zealanders have access to safe drinking water, along with better environmental outcomes for wastewater and stormwater services.

“Without change there were real risks that an event similar to the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak could occur,’’ Nanaia Mahuta said.

“Every year, around 34,000 people across New Zealand become ill from their drinking water and many thousands of households in different regions must boil their water to drink it safely.

“This is unacceptable in a first-world country such as New Zealand. Everybody in Aotearoa should be able to get drinking water from the tap knowing that it is safe. We should also be able to swim or gather mahinga kai in our rivers, lakes or at the beach without fear of becoming sick. We have an obligation to ensure this for current and future generations. Taumata Arowai has been established to ensure there is consistent regulation and enforcement to minimise these risks. Every New Zealander deserves safe, clean drinking water and adequate waste and storm water services.

“I’d like to acknowledge the thorough and diligent work of the Health Select Committee in its stewardship of this important legislation, and the widespread support from our partners in local government, iwi and the wider water sector. I would also like to acknowledge the organisations and large number of New Zealanders who took the time to submit on the Bill.

“I am very pleased to say that this input has led to improvements in the law, not least in strengthening Taumata Arowai’s role in shining a light on wastewater and stormwater network performance, addressing issues around trade waste, and ensuring cost-effective and pragmatic solutions for small and rural drinking water supplies.’

“The Water Services Act represents a major milestone in improving our water systems through increased compliance, monitoring and enforcement of water regulation.

“The next step in the response is to look at the operation, management and service delivery of our water systems, to ensure all communities are able to meet the costs of compliance,” said Nanaia Mahuta.

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