By November, drinking water in most towns and cities across the country will be required to be chlorinated, although some councils have said they will apply for exemptions.
This is just one of the changes underway as part of the government’s Sanshui reform. Another big change is tighter regulation of small water suppliers.
There are three main areas of government reform, most notably the establishment of regional water entities to take over the management of water assets from the council. This detail is still being debated.
But behind the scenes is the creation of a new water regulator, Taumata Arowai, which from November oversees drinking water, not health authorities.
The third area of reform is legislation passed last year, the 2021 Water Services Act. The 2016 outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North, which sickened thousands and killed four, sparked the Three Waters Reform.
Ray McMillan of Taumata Arowai said more compliance will be required, but the agency wants to work closely with suppliers.
“What we were overseeing at the time was what we knew at the time, there had been progress at Havelock North, and the way we now see the world is very different.”
One of the takeaways from the Havelock North survey is that all reticulated water networks need to have some type of residual disinfectant, mostly chlorine.
Although Taumata Arowai can grant an exemption, the approach has been adopted and will be implemented in November. An application for an exemption has not yet been received, but both Christchurch City Council and Waimakariri Council plan to apply.
“Chlorine is there for a reason. It provides a barrier against recontamination,” McMillan said.
Another change is that anyone who provides water to their home is now considered a water provider.
“There are a lot of people who probably never expected they’d be a water supplier, and they have to understand what that means,” McMillan said.
About 75,000 water providers are currently unregistered, but they have until 2025 to do so and have the next three years to learn how the rules apply to them and become compliant.
Gillian Blythe of Water New Zealand urged them not to wait, saying if suppliers suspected there might be an issue with their water safety, get advice as soon as possible.
“As of last November, all water suppliers have a duty of care. They need to know that the water they provide for you and me is safe”.
Tasman District Council recently facilitated a meeting between the local water supplier and Taumata Arowai.
Tasman Mayor Tim King said not enough people knew the impact of the changes.
“Brick-and-mortar work can be costly in some cases, but it’s also a real obligation and responsibility that you need to take on right now.
“I think the Water Services Act is probably one of the most important pieces of legislation and unfortunately it’s been forgotten in all other respects.”