Twenty-seven councils ordered to bring water supply up to standard

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In the aftermath of the cryptosporidium outbreak in Queenstown, Taumata Arowai, New Zealand’s drinking water regulator, has been investigating the treatment of drinking water supplies across the country.

It is a requirement of the Water Services Act 2021 and the Drinking Water Quality Assurance Rules that all drinking water suppliers ensure that their water is safe and complies with drinking water standards.  Owners of drinking water must have a drinking water safety plan, which must include a multi-barrier approach to drinking water safety which will:

  • prevent hazards from entering the raw water;
  • remove particles, pathogens, and chemical and radiological hazards from the water;
  • kill or inactivate pathogens in the water; and
  • maintain the quality of water in the reticulation system.

A multi-barrier approach is required, because there is no single barrier which is effective against all causes of contamination.  Drinking water which is sourced from surface water or from groundwater drawn from a depth of less than 30 metres requires a protozoa barrier; only groundwater supplies from greater than 30 metres deep do not.  It is the protozoa barrier which protects against cryptosporidium and giardia.

Taumata Arowai has identified 27 council suppliers, with 84 separate supply sources, which are required to but do not have a protozoa barrier in place. This affects the water supply for approximately 310,000 people. The list of councils is being updated as they demonstrate compliance with the requirements, with the current list available on Taumata Arowai’s website here

The affected councils have been given until 30 June 2024 to have compliant drinking water safety plans in place.  Councils with surface water sources will need to have protozoa barriers installed and operational by 31 December 2024, and those with bore water sources will need to do the same by 31 December 2025.  If any fail to do so, Taumata Arowai have a range of options, from issuing enforcement notices to prosecution of the council.  If a council is prosecuted and convicted, it can face fines of up to $3 million.

If it deems it appropriate, Taumata Arowai can also appoint a statutory manager to act in place of the supplier to perform all or any of the supplier’s functions or duties under the Water Services Act, taking over the council’s responsibilities entirely.

Taumata Arowai is clearly hoping to work with councils to avoid these measures.  Allowing councils until June next year to update their drinking water safety plans, and additional time to install the protozoa barriers to bring drinking water supplies up to standard allows for adequate scoping of options, and for the required funds to be allocated in the next budget cycle. 

While the initial focus of Taumata Arowai is on council-supplied water, there are also both private drinking water suppliers and central government suppliers (notably the New Zealand Defence Force and the Department of Conservation, at DOC campgrounds).  After tackling the councils, Taumata Arowai is likely to turn its sights to these other suppliers.

If you have any questions about drinking water standards, please contact a member of our public law or resource management teams.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for specific professional advice on any matter and should not be relied upon for that purpose.

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