Prior to the election, the Water Services Bill (Bill) was introduced to Parliament. While the water regulator Taumata Arowai (TA) is empowered to deal with wastewater and stormwater networks, the Bill itself focuses squarely on the establishment of a new regulatory regime for the supply of drinking water. The Bill will repeal Part 2A of the Health Act 1956 and replace it with a stand-alone Act to regulate drinking water. It is part of a broader package of reforms to New Zealand's three waters regulatory system, and follows the establishment of the new water regulator TA (see here).
The scheme of the Bill suggests that, like the current regime, the Bill is focused on those who source and supply water. The Bill would apply to any "drinking water supplier" other than domestic self-supply, meaning it will apply to a broad range of public and private entities, from traditional reticulated water supplies to back country huts. However, it is not entirely clear from the relevant definitions what the true scope of the Bill will be:
- A "drinking water supplier" means "a person who supplies drinking water through a drinking water supply". It is also includes "the owner and the operator of a drinking water supply".
- A "drinking water supply" means "the infrastructure and processes used to abstract, store, treat, transmit or transport drinking water for supply to consumers".
It appears that a key issue to work through at Select Committee stage is whether the scope of regulatory coverage risks being broader than intended, and whether it includes persons that own or operate one part of a drinking water supply only (eg they do not own or control a source of drinking water). Achieving clarity on the scope of the new regulatory regime, and which components of a water supply network have duties under it, will be very important.
Other key aspects of the Bill include:
- duties to supply safe drinking water, comply with drinking water standards and provide sufficient quantity of drinking water (among other duties);
- an individual duty of care imposed on all officers, employees, and agents of a drinking water supplier;
- powers for TA to establish water standards and compliance rules setting out requirements relating to the performance of functions and duties by drinking water suppliers (and other entities that might have functions and duties, such as local authorities);
- a requirement to prepare and implement a water risk management plan. This includes a new obligation in source water risk management plans to have regard to the values identified by local authorities under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management;
- suppliers must advise customers about a "notifiable risk or hazard";
- a requirement for suppliers to provide prescribed information to consumers and to have a complaints process in place;
- drinking water supplies must be registered;
- drinking water suppliers must advise affected consumers about a drinking water emergency;
- the TA is to act as an accreditation body where no other person is appointed;
- drinking water suppliers can be appointed to replace a supplier in breach or a supplier who no longer exists; and
- a new infringement offence and enforceable undertakings regime.
The Bill had its First Reading in Parliament on 8 December 2020. It has now been referred to the Health Committee (Committee) for consideration. The Committee has called for submissions on the Bill, with submissions due on Tuesday 2 March 2021. The Bill can be viewed here.
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