The Water Services Act 2021 represents an important change to the regulation of drinking water in New Zealand that will require modifications to many existing water schemes, particularly for rural suppliers. Created in response to the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak, the Act imposes significant obligations on owners and operators of ‘drinking water supplies’ to ensure that water supplied is safe and fit for purpose.
What is safe drinking water?
Safe drinking water is defined as ‘[d]rinking water that is unlikely to cause a serious risk of death, injury or illness’. Assessing whether water is safe involves a broad array of factors and includes, among others, whether the water complies with the acceptable contaminant values found in the Water Services (Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand) Regulations 2022.
Application to rural water suppliers
The duties imposed by the Act apply to all drinking water suppliers other than ‘domestic self-suppliers’. It is important to note that ‘drinking water suppliers’ is a broadly defined term and includes suppliers not only officially providing potable water, but who ‘ought reasonably to know’ that their water will be used as drinking water. Furthermore, the Act imposes duties on everyone who can influence the supply of drinking water. This includes people who exercise ‘effective control’ over the supply even though they are not employed by the drinking water supplier.
While all drinking water suppliers are currently required to provide safe drinking water, requirements around registering as a supplier with the regulator, Taumata Arowai, and implementing a drinking water safety plan or adopting an acceptable solution (see below) are staggered:
- current registered suppliers and new suppliers of drinking water must already be registered with Taumata Arowai and fully compliant with the new Act; but
- suppliers who were not required to be registered under the Health Act 1956 must be registered with Taumata Arowai by November 2025 and fully compliant with the new Act by November 2028.
How can suppliers comply with the Act?
Compliance with the Act can be achieved in two ways. Firstly, a supplier can submit a drinking water safety plan to Taumata Arowai who will review it for compliance and monitor continued adherence to the plan. Secondly, a supplier may adopt an acceptable solution as published by Taumata Arowai that is applicable to their water supply scheme. Suppliers who comply with an acceptable solution are deemed to have met their legislative requirements. Taumata Arowai has released acceptable solutions for:
- roof water supplies;
- spring and bore water supplies; and
- mixed use rural water supplies.
Acceptable solutions dictate how the water scheme is constructed, how and when testing must be undertaken, and what plans/training schemes are in place for operators.
The new regime implemented by the Water Services Act 2021 casts a broad net over all people involved in the supply of drinking water. Its impact will be felt most keenly by rural drinking water suppliers who may need to update their infrastructure, processes, and legal documents to ensure compliance with the Act. If you believe you are subject to the Act, please seek advice on your obligations and time frames under the Act.