A dedicated water regulator and new water regulations from mid-2020 will ensure safe drinking water around the country and prevent sewage ending up on beaches, in rivers and in lakes, the Government says.
Ministers announced major changes tonight to clean up drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems as part of its response to the contamination of Havelock North's drinking water in 2016 that saw 5000 people get sick.
"Access to safe, clean drinking water is a birthright for New Zealanders and a key concern for communities up and down the country," Health Minister David Clark said in a statement.
"Wherever they live, consumers and communities expect to be able to turn on the tap and drink the water without fear of getting ill."
Key features of the announcement include:
- A dedicated water regulator
- A new Water Services Bill
- Extending regulatory coverage to all water suppliers, except individual household self-suppliers
- Strengthened Government stewardship of wastewater and stormwater services, with Regional Councils remaining primary regulators for the environment
- Transitional arrangements of up to five years to allow water suppliers to adjust to the regulations
The Government has acknowledged that the cost of upgrading water infrastructure may be unaffordable for smaller communities, towns, marae and provincial areas.
Advice is being sought, and how to meet these costs will be addressed towards the end of the year.
There will be a new national environmental standard for wastewater discharges and overflows, while data will be collected to improve information about how stormwater systems impact the environment.
The aim is to enable rivers, lakes and beaches to be free of raw sewage seepage.
The new water regulator will have the final say on safe drinking water, though Cabinet is yet to decide on its final form, scope and location.
The regulator is expected to be in place in the middle of next year and will set water standards, monitor and enforce compliance, and be responsible for advice and education.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who is leading the Government's Three Waters Review, said oversight of water was fractured as it was split between a number of agencies and legislation.
"Today's proposals, featuring the new regulator and regulations, will ensure coherent, safe drinking water supplies with additional oversight of wastewater and stormwater services."
Havelock North's drinking water issues were also apparent in its wastewater and stormwater systems, according to the Three Waters Review, commissioned by the Government in mid-2017.
An estimated 34,000 people across the country become ill from their drinking water every year.