Water Services Bill

Rural | Print Article

September 2021

Significant changes to rural potable water supplies on the way.


The Water Services Bill currently progressing through the parliamentary process creates significant change to rural drinking water compliance. While the proposed bill relates to the supply of all drinking water (urban and rural), when passed the Act will replace Part 2A of the Health Act 1956, which relates to drinking water and will be a significant change for the rural community to address. It is expected that the bill will pass into law later this year.

Historically, many of the rural domestic water private supplies (such as bores serving more than one household, small water groups regardless of legal structure, community water taps and some irrigation companies) were not subject to the requirements of the Health Act 1956. Under the Water Services Bill only ‘domestic self-suppliers’ (a standalone domestic dwelling that has its own water supply, such as a bore/spring servicing a single household) are not caught by the proposed drinking water reforms and have been excluded from the definition of ‘drinking water supplier’.

The Health Select Committee has recently reviewed the Water Services Bill and the submissions filed and recommended that it be passed. The select committee has proposed amendments but none that significantly affect the definition of drinking water supplier or supply.

The definition of drinking water supplier means a person who supplies drinking water through a drinking water supply and includes a person who ought reasonably to know that the water they are supplying is or will be used as drinking water and includes the owner or operator of a drinking water supply but excludes a domestic self-supplier.

The definition of drinking water supply means the infrastructure and processes used to abstract, store, treat, transmit, or transport drinking water for supply to consumers or another drinking water supplier.

The Health Select Committee considered that ‘unregistered water suppliers’ (rural water suppliers) should be ‘required to supply safe drinking water from day 1, register the supply by the end of year 3 and comply with all legislation by year 5.’

Therefore, although it is proposed registration and compliance will be delayed there is still the overarching duty to supply safe drinking water from the date of enactment of the Bill. Suppliers would have to ascertain the state of the water supply to ensure they met that requirement.

Key requirements of the Water Services Bill to rural water supplies

It is estimated that approximately 75,000 private rural supplies will be captured by the proposed new Act.

In brief, the changes to rural water supplies include the following mandatory requirements:

  • a focus on the provision of ‘safe’ drinking water;
  • annual registration with the regulator for suppliers;
  • regular accredited laboratory testing of the potable water;
  • water treatment;
  • preparation and implementation of water safety plans and source water safety plans – proportionate to the scale, complexity, and risk of each drinking water supply;
  • incorporation of the requirements relating to Te Mana o te Wai;
  • providing a sufficient quantity of drinking water; and
  • complying with strict liability duties placed on suppliers, similar to health and safety legislation, with a suite of penalties and offences for non-compliance.

Taumata Arowai

Related legislation has already been passed which established the water regulator Taumata Arowai. That entity will administer the regulatory framework of the Water Services Bill.

Taumata Arowai will have the ability to issue ‘acceptable solutions’ for drinking water compliance establishment. Acceptable solutions are arrangements that would demonstrate compliance, particularly for small, rural drinking water suppliers. Taumata Arowai is currently developing these but has not yet been determined what they are. A current proposed acceptable solution may involve end-point treatment devices such as a water treatment system that is of a reasonable quality to be installed at the end user point and competently operated, to comply with the acceptable solution. It is likely the acceptable solutions will not be finalised prior to the Bill being passed.

For suppliers that may wish to cease their obligations to supply water they will be required to notify Taumata Arowai and affected territorial authorities of the intention or proposal. Taumata Arowai would be able to recover from a drinking water supplier all costs, charges, and expenses incurred for taking over the supply (such as the costs of transporting water for a supply that is unsafe or is being brought up to standard, for example).

Importance of preparation

It is recommended that potable water provision and associated legal arrangements be reviewed to understand who will be a ’supplier’ pursuant to the proposed legislation and what the requirements to comply with the proposed legislation will be and how the cost of compliance can be shared between users.