NZ struggles with widespread drinking water standard non-compliance

The second stage of an Inquiry into Havelock North’s drinking water contamination, released this week, reveals that New Zealand’s quality of drinking water in New Zealand is often inadequate, and that regulation and enforcement has been poor.

The inquiry found that 80 per cent of residents have access to water which meets current standards, raising concerns about the other 20 percent currently exposed to unsafe drinking water.

“It makes for sobering reading and the Government is now considering its 51 recommendations”, said Attorney General David Parker. He said that some of the recommendations can be addressed quickly, and has already requested Mayors and DHBs throughout New Zealand to check the water they’re supplying residents meets current standards, in light of the widespread non-compliance.

“There is nothing in law preventing councils immediately moving to improve the treatment of water”, he said.

Minister of Health Dr David Clark has said he will brief Cabinet before Christmas on the next steps – short and long term, stating that safe drinking water is a government priority.

Taking a longer-term view, Infrastructure New Zealand’s CEO Stephen Selwood is calling for an overhaul of the water sector in its entirety.  He says the report demonstrates an immediate need to establish a small number of large dedicated water service providers, funded by metered water and overseen by a competent regulator.

Arguing that water suppliers across New Zealand are too small, under-resourced and conflicted in their provision of water services, he advises that larger entities will “generate the economies of scale needed to achieve drinking water and environmental standards which are currently being ignored, often because of the cost impact to councils”.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) similarly raised concerns over affordability and the cost to communities of significant infrastructure investment.

“The report did not consider the costs of meeting standards,” said LGNZ President, Dave Cull. “There are already challenges for some communities in paying to upgrade and maintain three waters infrastructure, so any conversation about standards needs to be accompanied by a discussion about the costs to communities of meeting those standards, and how these costs can be equitably shared by all users of water services.”

Mr Cull says some communities will be happy with the systems they have and the level of risk that comes with untreated water, and if they are making informed decisions then this should be supported, not overridden, by central government.”

The report can be found here:


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