Frequently asked questions
In July 2020, Central Government launched the Three Waters Reform Programme – a three-year programme to reform Local Government three waters (drinking, waste water and stormwater) service delivery arrangements. This is now know as the Affordable Waters Reform, as of April 2023.
The reform programme follows a Central Government Inquiry into Havelock North Drinking Water. The enquiry was set up following a campylobacter outbreak in 2016 where 5500 people became ill and four people are thought to have died from associated causes.
Central Government has established Taumata Arowai, which will become the New Zealand's drinking water regulator, when the Water Services Bill is passed later this year (2021). The Bill contains all of the details of the new drinking-water regulations, the requirements for protecting freshwater supplies, and Taumata Arowai's waste water and storm water functions.
Central Government will establish ten publicly-owned entities to manage drinking water, waste water and storm water infrastructure across New Zealand. Currently 67 different councils own and operate the majority of the drinking water, waste water and stormwater services across Aotearoa.
The 10 entities will cover the following regions: Northland and Auckland; Waikato; Bay of Plenty; Taranaki; Manawatū-Whanganui; Tairāwhiti/Gisborne-Hawke’s Bay; Wellington and Wairarapa; Te Tau Ihu/Nelson-Tasman-Marlborough; West Coast-Canterbury; and Otago-Southland. Under the new model, the Rangitīkei district will be under Entity E - Manawatu-Whanganui.
The ten entities will be introduced in a staggered approach rather than all ten entities going live at once. New entities will begin to be stood up from early 2025 and this process will be completed by 1 July 2026 at the latest.
Information provided by Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ)
Key Facts and Figures [PDF]
If you have any further questions about Three Waters Reform, please email email@example.com.
Currently, New Zealand's drinking water, waste water and storm water (the 'three waters') services are mostly provided by 67 local councils, including Rangitīkei District Council.
However, councils are facing several challenges, including:
large debt and affordability issues
meeting safety standards and environmental expectations
building resilience to natural hazards and climate change
supporting the growth of their communities.
A report by the Water Industry Commission for Scotland (WICS) estimates that New Zealand will need to invest between $120 billion to $185 billion in our three waters infrastructure over the next 30 years to meet drinking water and environmental standards and provide for future population growth. The combined forecast spend in all New Zealand councils' latest long-term budgets is about $81 billion.
There are also increasing concerns about the quality of New Zealand's drinking water and the safety of the infrastructure that delivers it.
Central Government’s proposal would mean a significant change to the delivery of water services. Councils would shift its focus from delivery to kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of water services. Requirements on local authorities to ensure safe drinking water, environmentally responsible discharge of wastewater, and effective management of stormwater would transfer to new entities.
For most councils, removing water-related debt could improve their immediate debt position; this would be the case for Rangitīkei District Council. It could potentially create more opportunities for the Council to focus on delivering well-being to their communities.
Under the new ‘Affordable Waters Reforms’ approach, every community will be financially better off despite the increased investment in water infrastructure. The Government considers that this new approach will avoid a rates blow out for New Zealanders by delivering savings to households between $2,770-$5,400 per year by 2054. Somewhat larger savings would have been produced from having fewer entities.
Central Government's primary objective of the Affordable Waters Reforms is to provide a more efficient and consistent way of delivering three waters services across Aotearoa.
It is believed that greater efficiencies and capabilities can be achieved by councils and communities joining together to provide these services at a larger scale.
Other specific objectives of the Three Waters Reform Programme are (summarised):
- Safe and reliable drinking water: For all New Zealanders and visitors. In 2016, thousands of people were infected in Havelock North by drinking water from contaminated bores. Four people died, and others were left permanently disabled.
- Affordable water services in the future: In some parts of the country, it is becoming increasingly unaffordable for councils to provide safe and reliable three waters services.
- Climate change: Increasing flooding events and sea-level rise will put pressure on three waters infrastructure and services. Central Government is concerned about the ability of councils to meet this challenge without reform.
- The same level of service for everyone: With 67 councils providing three waters services across the country, some communities receive a different level of service to others. The reform aims to provide a more consistent level of service for New Zealanders.
- Proper investment in infrastructure: Through stage one of the reform process, Central Government concluded there is ongoing under investment in three waters infrastructure in parts of the country. There may be high costs over the next 30 years as infrastructure is brought up to standard. These costs may be too much for some councils to carry alone.
- All water services meeting new requirements: With a new national water regulator, Taumata Arowai, and a new economic regulator is being established, the Central Government is concerned councils may not meet future requirements without reform.
A fundamental building block of the reform will be a partnership with tangata whenua, following the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
The reform is also aimed at delivering Te Mana o te Wai: Essential Freshwater, a set of principles co-designed with iwi/Māori to lift the water quality of our streams, rivers and lakes.
A partnership brings the opportunity to incorporate the value of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) alongside western systems to facilitate the best outcomes for New Zealand communities. The reform provides an opportunity to start this process side-by-side.
We recognise and support the need for iwi/Māori to work alongside the council to ensure that any reform doesn’t adversely impact existing rights and interests. We also see value in the perspective tangata whenua can offer as the reforms unfold.
Locally, we are working with Te Roopuu Ahi Kaa Komiti (the Council’s standing advisory committee for our Iwi and hapū here in Rangitīkei).
The New Zealand Government decided to rename the "Three Waters Reform" to “Affordable Waters Reforms” to clarify the purpose of the reforms. The decision was made to avoid confusion and ensure that the focus is on the purpose of the proposed reforms themselves, i.e. to provide affordable and sustainable water infrastructure improvements across the country.
The Three Waters Reform aims to consolidate water services into four publicly owned entities to improve efficiency and service quality. In contrast, the Affordable Waters Reform seeks to establish ten regionally led entities that would maintain local representation and ensure closer connections with the communities they serve. The Affordable Waters Reform addresses concerns raised by local councils about the loss of local influence and voice under the Three Waters Reform. For Rangitīkei District Council, this means that we will have more say and representation over our local water services entity to ensure we get our community’s needs met.
By extending the number of publicly owned water entities to 10, every district council, and therefore every community, will have a say and representation over their local water services entities.
However, although having a voice for Rangitīkei is a significant step forward, there are more questions that need answering following tweaks to the Government’s Three Waters initiative.
Although the four-entity model to deliver Three Waters services has been replaced by a more regional 10-entity system, the overarching framework seems to be the same as before, which means that decisions about our district will still be made elsewhere.
Transferring our water assets and debts to the new Entity means councils will technically own the new Entity on behalf of the community, but won’t have any real control over the Entity. Instead, our main role will be to represent our communities to ensure the Entity meets your needs, and appoint the board of directors for the Entity. This will include a council representative and Iwi representative.