Independent regulator to make drinking water safe

  • Hon Dr David Clark
  • Hon Nanaia Mahuta
Health Local Government

The Government will create a standalone Crown entity to regulate drinking water in New Zealand.

This decision by Cabinet signals the Government’s determination that the new regulator responsible for ensuring supplies of safe, clean drinking water for all New Zealand households and communities should operate with a high level of independence.

“This step-change in establishing an independent regulator is an approach that drives best practice in other international jurisdictions facing similar challenges of providing reliable drinking water and planning for growth and urban development,’’ said Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta who is leading the cross-agency Three Waters Review.

“New Zealanders have every right to expect clean, safe drinking water.  Unfortunately, over many years, our regulatory regime has not kept pace with international best practice. In addition, enforcement of the existing regulations has become fractured and increasingly ineffective,” Nanaia Mahuta said.

Minister of Health Dr David Clark said the previous Government allowed a permissive approach to drinking water regulation to develop.

“The campylobacter outbreak from contaminated public water supplies in Havelock North three years ago was a tragedy. It made more than 5000 people sick, killed up to four people and left others with long-term complications.

“This Government has learned the lessons from the Havelock North tragedy and we are working to fix the problems exposed by the resulting inquiry.

“Cabinet considered a range of options for the form of the new regulator, including rolling it into an existing entity, but concluded that a dedicated standalone regulator would have the high degree of focus and independence needed to provide the best protection for New Zealanders,” Dr Clark said.

Minister Mahuta said that work to establish the regulator would begin immediately.

“Associated legislation will be introduced to Parliament in the coming months and is expected to be passed in 2020.’’

The new regulator will:

  • deliver a strengthened approach to drinking water regulation and have a clear focus on drinking water safety
  • have an organisational structure that prioritises drinking water regulation
  • help build and maintain public confidence in drinking water safety
  • build capability among drinking water suppliers by promoting education and training
  • ensure that tikanga Māori, kaitiakitanga and Te Mana o te Wai with regard to drinking water will be enabled and supported
  • contribute to improved environmental outcomes for fresh water by providing central oversight and guidance for the sector’s wastewater and stormwater regulatory functions.

“New Zealanders must be able to turn on household taps and drink the water without fear of getting sick,’’ Nanaia Mahuta said.

“We all care deeply about the quality of our water. This new dedicated drinking water regulator will help ensure public safety, underpin community wellbeing and meet our people’s rightful expectations.’’

The relevant Cabinet paper and associated documents can be found at