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The Department of Internal Affairs

The Department of Internal Affairs

Te Tari Taiwhenua

Building a safe, prosperous and respected nation


Three Waters Review


The Government is reviewing how to improve the management of drinking water, storm water and waste water (three waters) to better support New Zealand’s prosperity, health, safety and environment. Three waters services are a core responsibility of local councils.

Effective three waters services are essential for our communities

Our health and safety: depends on safe drinking water, safe disposal of waste water and effective stormwater drainage.

Our prosperity: depends on adequate supply of cost effective three waters services for housing, businesses and community services.

Our environment: depends on well managed extraction of drinking water, and careful disposal of waste water and stormwater.

A series of recent events have indicated that the current approach may not be ‘fit for purpose’

  • The Auditor-General and the Productivity Commission have raised concerns about investment and regulation of three waters infrastructure.
  • Widespread outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North in August 2016, with more than 5000 people falling ill from contamination of the drinking water supply.
  • It could take up to 120 days to restore water services to Wellington in the event of a major earthquake.
  • Kaipara District Council, where a wastewater scheme intended to cost the community $18.5 million actually cost $63.3 million, and required the Crown to appoint Commissioners to replace the elected council.
  • Whanganui District Council, where a wastewater scheme costing $27 million failed to meet intended performance levels and a new scheme costing approximately $41.2 million is proposed.

The government is reviewing how three waters services are provided to improve the approach

  • The review will primarily focus on understanding the challenges associated with managing finances, infrastructure and compliance and monitoring systems.
  • The review aims to identify how to make the most of the current regulatory settings, and support greater collaboration between local and central government.
  • The review will be done in two stages:
    • Stage One – exploring the issues and opportunities with three waters services by gathering and analysing information. This should be completed by the end of the year.
    • Stage Two - looking at options for improving three waters services. This should be completed in 2018.
  • Central government will work closely with councils, iwi and all stakeholders with an interest in three waters services.

Three waters review - Cabinet paper

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