Yesterday, the Government introduced Taumata Arowai – the Water Services Regulator Bill (Bill) to Parliament, which will implement the Government's decision to create a new regulatory authority to oversee, administer and enforce the drinking water regulatory system. The Bill is part of a broader package of reforms to New Zealand's three waters regulatory system, following the Government's cross-agency Three Waters Review.
The new water regulator, which is to be called Taumata Arowai, will be established as a statutory Crown entity – more specifically, a "Crown agent". This means that it will operate at arms-length from Ministers, but must give effect to the Government's policy directions. The key purpose of the Bill is to establish the range of objectives and functions that Taumata Arowai will have, including:
- protecting and promoting public health outcomes and drinking water safety;
- administering the nation-wide drinking water regulatory system, including:
- developing standards that relate to drinking water composition and other regulatory requirements; and
- monitoring and enforcing those standards and requirements;
- building capability among drinking water suppliers, and across the wider industry, including by promoting collaboration, education and training;
- giving effect to Te Mana o te Wai and the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi;
- preparing and promoting national guidelines and good practices that relate to drinking water, as well as wastewater and stormwater networks and operators; and
- providing central oversight and co-ordination of the regulation, management and environmental performance of wastewater and stormwater networks, and promoting public understanding of these matters.
Essentially, Taumata Arowai will have a wide range of regulatory objectives and functions covering both drinking water, and wastewater and stormwater networks. Although it can be expected that ensuring clarity and certainty on what those functions entail will be a focus of submissions on the Bill, such clarity may not be obtained until further legislation is introduced to reform the regulation of drinking water and wastewater and stormwater networks, which is expected to be introduced early in 2020. The Bill is expected to be enacted around August 2020, making Taumata Arowai a legal entity at that time. Minutes of Cabinet's decision to establish the Taumata Arowai noted that it is desirable to use a separate Bill to establish the regulator to enable the entity to be up and running within the current parliamentary term. However, the Government has not made it clear how this phasing will work in practice, particularly given that Taumata Arowai will likely be established as a legal entity prior to its detailed functions and powers coming into effect.
As a Crown agent, Taumata Arowai will have a governance board. The Bill also provides for the establishment of a Māori Advisory Group to advise Taumata Arowai on Māori interests and the scope and effect of Te Mana o te Wai, and to ensure that the regulator acts consistently with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.
In the meantime, a water regulator establishment unit, which is hosted by the Department of Internal Affairs, will continue its preparatory work to design and operationalise Taumata Arowai so that the regulator is ready to function when the legislation is enacted. The unit will carry out functions relating to transition and implementation planning, building new regulatory functions, establishing an operating model, and initiating a communications and stakeholder relations function. However, until Taumata Arowai is fully functional with supporting legislation, the status quo applies, meaning drinking water regulation will continue to be the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.
Local Government Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta's press release following the introduction of the Bill can be viewed here, and a full copy of the Bill itself can be viewed here.