It’s still “regulatory over-reach” but new rules covering tens of thousands of small-scale rural water supplies are in a much better place than when first proposed.
That’s the summary from Nigel Billings, who along with another Federated Farmers Senior Policy Advisor Rhea Dasent has spearheaded the organisation’s fightback against regulations for drinking water suppliers formulated as secondary legislation under the Water Services Act 2021.
After two rounds of consultation, the final form of the regulations have just been published. There’s more detail here, but to rush ahead to the good bits for farmers and rural communities:
- A new band of drinking water supplies serving up to 25 people (‘Very Small Communities’ module) under the Quality Assurance Rules (QAR) has been agreed. Unlike the original 0 to 50 people module, Very Small Communities only requires two in-system E. coli tests per year and no treatment requirements, such that cartridge filtration and UV lamp treatment systems are not necessary to comply. The estimated cost saving against what was originally proposed is at least $3000 per household.
- For any supply to populations fewer than 100 people, there is no chlorination requirement in the treatment rules.
- The other way for small supplies to meet the drinking water standards that regulator Taumata Arowai will monitor and police are known as Acceptable Solutions. In short, with Federated Farmers pushing hard, Acceptable Solutions for spring and bore water supplies are less prescriptive, the compliance and testing frequency burden is lighter and the focus has shifted to end-point treatment systems. The supplier (while still responsible) can require consumers to maintain or test end-point treatment systems.
“We remain very unhappy at the level of regulation for people right at the small end of the water supply scale, and they’re going to have to register,” Billings says. “But this is a big improvement on what we would have been looking at.”
Might as well be “loud and proud” about it, he says: Federated Farmers was the only agricultural advocacy organisation on the small supplier technical working group in the latest consultation round. Billings and Dasent, with backing from others in the policy team, put together a detailed 75-page “door-stopper” response to the draft regulations, picking apart what was unnecessary, over-precautious and impractical.
“We certainly got the attention of the regulators and as the Water Services Act went through its processes, we sparked many small suppliers to get motivated. There ended up being hundreds and hundreds of submissions from those small suppliers,” Billings says.
Unfortunately, “there’s another mountain still to climb” on the water supply front. As FedsNews has covered in earlier editions (click here) the National Environment Standard – Drinking Water will place very significant restrictions in and around drinking water sources (bores, springs, river draw-offs), costing many farmers tens of thousands of dollars in resource consent costs.