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Three Waters Reform

Three Waters Reform Programme

In July 2020, the New Zealand Government launched the Three Waters Reform Programme – a three-year programme to reform the service delivery arrangements of drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater.

Key features of the current proposal by Government would see that water services are delivered by four entities across New Zealand. Until the final proposal has been confirmed, local authorities will remain responsible for these services.

To stay informed with the Three Waters Reform Programme refer to the Department of Internal Affairs website or the Three Waters website.

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) has developed an entity map, highlighting the boundaries of the proposed four entities. Waikato District would fall within 'Entity B'. 

Three Waters Reform Map

WDC feedback letter and report to DIA


Why does Government think change is needed?

The New Zealand Government have indicated that between $120 billion and $185 billion needs to be invested over the next 30 years to meet drinking water and environmental standards and provide for future population growth.

The government believes that through reform, the costs for our households and communities over time will reduce substantially.

The government claims that separating New Zealand into four entities strikes the right balance between economies of scale and the needs and interests of local communities. The research supports this, indicating that entities that deliver services to at least 600,000 to 800,000 connections, can achieve significant efficiency gains. 

What will the proposed reform mean?

The reform would bring together the drinking water, stormwater and wastewater (three waters) services, currently delivered by 67 different councils across New Zealand, into four competency-based water services entities. These entities will remain firmly in public ownership (by the communities they serve). Reform would also improve transparency about the delivery and costs of these services and uphold the Crown's Treaty of Waitangi obligations to iwi/Māori.

What does the government want to achieve with the reform?

The three waters reform programme sets out to improve the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. It will improve the safety, quality, and environmental performance of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services in a way that is considerably more affordable per household than the current delivery structure. 

Who will own the assets? 

The proposed entities will be the owners of the assets, with the councils within owning the entity. The assets continue to belong to the public. 

Will we be handing 50% of our waters assets to iwi?   

No – it is proposed that iwi will have an equal share into how the entities are developed and how they are managed and operated, but are not owners of the assets.

Who will run the entities?

A Regional Representative Group will set expectations for the entity and select an independent panel to appoint the board. The representative group will comprise a portion of local authority members and mana whenua. The board will govern the entity and appoint a Chief Executive who will manage the operations for the entity.

Will I be charged for water?

Initially, the way you pay for water you will continue to be same. Over time, the Entity may wish to make some changes the way water is paid for consistent across the entities area.

As an example, areas without water meters may have water meters installed so waters users can pay for the actual water they consume.

At this time, we are unsure what changes the Entity may want to bring that would alter how Waikato residents pay for water in the future.

Is this just about drinking water?

No, the Government’s proposed reform will cover drinking water, stormwater and wastewater (sewage).

What about private water supplies?

Impending legislation will require private water supplies to meet new drinking water standards. These standards will be set by the water regulator Taumata Arowai. Council or the new entity would be responsible for ensuring these standards are met by the private water supplies. 

Will we be better or worse off?

Government has put a funding package together and stated that no councils will be worse off through the reforms and all communities will be better off. Funding is provided to support councils through any transition process, and to ensure the financial impacts of reform will be managed appropriately.

What entity region would Waikato District Council be in?

Waikato District Council would form part of a central North Island entity known as ‘Entity B’. The 22 councils in proposed Entity B would include the greater Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, and parts of Manawatu-Whanganui. 


Entity B - Three Waters Portrait

Will this mean I pay less for water services?

The government has indicated than with reform, costs will be substantially lower over time. However, currently it is unlikely costs will be lower in the short term. A very large investment is needed to provide improved and sustainable three water services.

Is this a step toward privatisation?

No. In fact, further safeguards against future privatisation are being developed through legislation, making it more difficult to privatise than it is now. Continued public ownership of three waters water services and infrastructure is a bottom line for the government. 

Will regional entities change the service levels we get now?

The reform programme includes new oversight and reporting provisions which will give communities more security about service levels than currently. This will include a regulator (Taumata Arowai) and an economic regulator who will set and review the implementation of new compliance standards. It is also proposed that a new Ombudsman be appointed.  The Ombudsman would handle complaints and investigate the administrative conduct of the water entities, including in relation to official information act inquiries. The ombudsman is completely independent of the water entity.  Each entity will be required to engage with communities in a meaningful and effective manner on key documents. The entities will be required to publish these, to report on how consumer and community feedback was incorporated into decision-making. Entities will also be required to set up a forum to assist with effective and meaningful engagement.

 What will happen to Council's waters staff?

Under the government proposal, all staff who work primarily on water will be guaranteed a role at the new water service entities that retains key features of their current role, salary, location, leave and hours/days of work. A more customised approach is required for senior executives, other staff and contractors.

When will public consultation occur?

Late October 2021, Government announced they will be proceeding with reform and will introduce legislation to establish four publicly owned entities to manage the country’s water resources. On this basis, formal public consultation will not be occurring.

What is the timeline?

Timeline of Three Waters Reform Programme

Where can I get more information?

The latest Government information and releases is uploaded to the Department of Internal Affairs website here:

What waters assets does Council have?

WDC has a large number of assets within our three waters portfolio including:

Watermains lengths (kms):

Stormwater = 180.50km

Wastewater = 341.00km

Water supply = 826.10km

Total length of all watermains combined = 1347.60km


Pump stations:

Stormwater = 3

Wastewater = 96

Water supply = 14

Total pump stations = 113


Treatment plants:

Stormwater = not applicable

Wastewater = 9

Water supply = 7

Total treatment plants = 16


Our assets are extremely valuable and require a large amount of maintenance to keep them in good condition to deliver water services across the Waikato District. To replace all of the assets in our three waters network would cost an estimated $548 million.




Media Releases

WDC proud of relationship with Watercare amid three waters reform discussions

As Councils across the country consider the Government’s Three Waters Reform proposal, Waikato District Council is reflecting on its own reform that’s been in place for a couple of years – its partnership with Watercare.

Waikato District Council has been focused on improving the delivery of our water services to customers for some time, under the direction of Mayor Allan Sanson.

In October 2019, Council began contracting its drinking water, stormwater and wastewater services to Watercare.

The partnership enables Waikato District Council to maintain ownership of the three waters assets, while Watercare manage the infrastructure above and below the ground.

In the creation of the contract with Watercare, Council ensured our people and local economy would be prioritised, with procurement targets developed and all staff having job security from day one.

The partnership is governed by an independent group of trusted professionals known as the Waters Governance Board, who make sustainable decisions, monitor the progress and subsequently the delivery of service, and provide strategic input.     

By delegating decision making to the Waters Governance Board, this provides council with independent advice around what is required to meet rising standards and increasing demands.

Waikato District Council’s Mayor, Allan Sanson, is proud of the decision Council made to contract the water services to Watercare and feels confident in the Waters Governance Board as the kaitiaki (guardians) of the partnership.

“This worrisome area of the business doesn’t keep me awake at night anymore as I know it’s in good hands with competent directors.”

“We have confidence in the Waters Governance Board. We trust the experts and they are reliable,” he said.

There have been many positive examples of the partnership with Watercare, including the upgrades to the Meremere wastewater treatment plant. Within two years Watercare procured and built a high technology Membrane Bio Reactor (MBR) plant which will bring the plant to modern standards.

In the same time frame Watercare have also renewed Waikato District Council’s wastewater discharge resource consent for 35 years with Waikato Regional Council.

The above example is just one of the many benefits the contractual partnership has provided with a specialist water business bringing scale and focus to a growth council. Pairing this expertise with the implementation of an independent governing board has been a good mix which is lifting our level of service.