Three Waters Reform Programme - Water Service Act 2021

18 May 2022

What is three waters?

The ‘Three Waters Reform Programme’ deals with the three main types of water infrastructure - stormwater, drinking water and wastewater. The passing of the Water Service Act 2021 (WSA) attracted little discussion in the news. However, once passed it will have a significant impact on our rural communities.

There are significant challenges faced by local government in managing the water services. As such, the Government is progressing reforms to create four publicly owned water entities. A restructure of this nature will see the management of most of New Zealand’s water assets moved out of the hands of 67 local councils, and in to four publicly owned entities. The proposed operational date of these separate entitles is 1 July 2024.

What is the WSA?

Passed into law 15 November last year, the WSA provides a water risk management framework together with the Resource Management Act 1991, to ensure the availability of clean drinking water across New Zealand. These changes are partly in response to the contamination of the drinking water supply in 2016 in Havelock North with campylobacter. As a result of the contamination thousands became sick, some were permanently disabled and at least four people died.

Under the WSA, water suppliers must ensure their supply of drinking water meets certain safety standards. These standards will be set and administered by the newly established regulatory body, Taumata Arowai. Whilst large scale water suppliers such as local councils, must have met these standards under the Health Act 1956 (Health Act), the WSA broadens the scope of a ‘drinking water supplier’ and who must comply with the obligations under the WSA.

Who is a Water Supplier?

A ‘drinking water supplier’ is anyone who owns or operates a supply of drinking water (or water which ought reasonably be expected to be used for drinking) which services more than one dwelling. This is a significant change as, under the Health Act, many rural private water supplies (such as bore water that services many farming houses) were exempt from meeting water standards. However, under the WSA, a farm that supplies multiple dwellings, milking sheds or woolsheds from the same private source, such as a private bore, will fall under the definition of a ‘drinking water supplier’ and must meet water quality standards set by Taumata Arowai.

Registration and Drinking Water Safety Plans

A ‘drinking water supplier’ must now register their water supply with Taumata Arowai and prepare and submit a drinking water safety plan. The purpose of the plan is to identify any known or potential hazards to the water supply. The plan must outline the measures that the ‘drinking water supplier’ will put in place to mitigate these hazards. The plan must also include a “multi-barrier approach” to:

  • prevent hazards from entering the raw water source;
  • remove any particles and chemical hazards from the water;
  • kill or inactivate pathogens, and;
  • maintain the quality of the water throughout the distribution system.

It is important to note that if a supplier is, or is likely to be, considered a ‘drinking water supplier,’ it must put the necessary plan in place to ensure and maintain the safety of its drinking water supply.

Taumata Arowai may allow drinking water suppliers to forego their responsibilities under the WSA on the basis the ‘drinking water supplier’ adopts an ‘acceptable drinking water solution.’ An acceptable drinking water solution’ could be “point of entry” or “end point filtration” devices, such as a UV filter or such other filter device used for the purpose of treating drinking water.

Time Frame for Compliance

Although the Act was passed on 15 November 2021, to allow existing water suppliers to comply with the new requirements, the Act comes into full effect on 15 November 2028. It is important to note the following dates:

  1. A 'drinking water supplier’ registered with the Ministry of Health before the WSA was passed, will automatically be registered with Taumata Arowai. It must submit a new water safety plan to Taumata Arowai by 15 November 2022.
  2. A supplier which is, or is likely to be, a 'drinking water supplier’ under the WSA that has not been previously registered, will have until 15 November 2025 to register its water supply. It also has until 15 November 2027 to submit a water safety plan to Taumata Arowai and meet the compliance requirements under the WSA.
  3. A supplier that will be supplying drinking water for the first time after 15 November 2021, must register the water supply and submit a water safety plan before it begins supplying any water.


There are substantial penalties involved for non-compliance of the WSA. Failing to register a water supply or submit any other required documentation could result in a fine of up to $50,000 for an individual, or up to $200,000 for a body corporate. Individuals may also bring private criminal prosecutions if Taumata Arowai decides not to proceed with prosecution.

If you have any concerns how the WSA may affect you, or you need help navigating the changes, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Odette Cottle and Barbara McDermott are part of our Corporate & Commercial team at Norris Ward McKinnon.