With the Water Services Bill passing its third reading on September 28 without an exemption for small suppliers, Federated Farmers is now focusing on the Minister’s undertakings around making the processes simple, cost-effective and practical.
“Federated Farmers is deeply disappointed that the strong case for a carve-out from the new regulations for those supplying water to 50 or fewer people was defeated in the House,” Feds President Andrew Hoggard said.
“We argued strongly – as did Opposition MPs and others – that an education and information campaign focusing on best practice, coupled where necessary with UV filtration devices or similar at households receiving the water, was all that was needed.
“We highlighted the very real risk that some of the estimated 75,000-plus operators of small supplies to neighbouring rural households, and to marae and baches, may cease those arrangements to avoid costs and compliance hassles of the new regime.”
With the Bill now passed Federated Farmers is focused on working with the regulator, Taumata Arowai, to find fit-for-purpose solutions that can be delivered at a reasonable cost, Andrew said.
Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta would not budget on the exemption question, including in the face of a Supplementary Order Paper from National MP Christopher Luxon seeking a carve-out for supplies with 30 or fewer connections.
The Minister said it was not true that drinking water contamination was only experienced in reticulated supplies, such occurred in Havelock North in 2016. The Ministry of Health’s annual report on drinking water quality showed that in 2019-2020, suppliers serving 501-5000 consumers were only 43.8% in compliance with all water standards, and those serving 100-500 consumers were at 31.3% compliance.
It was “very unknown” what level of compliance was achieved by supplies to fewer than 100 people – that is rainwater tanks, bores and very small community supplies that serve some 944,000 New Zealanders.
While she and the Labour majority refused a small supplier exemption, the Minister said that Taumata Arowai would work with stakeholders for practical solutions that reflect the scale, size and complexity of those supplies.
The advocacy of Federated Farmers and others won other concessions too:
- A supplier that complies with a solution Taumata Arowai deems acceptable will not need to have a drinking water safety plan, nor a source water risk management plan.
- The registration process will be free for small suppliers, and tailored on-line templates and guidance will be made available.
- Timeframes have been pushed out. Currently unregistered suppliers will now have four years to register with Taumata Arowai, and seven years to comply with new requirements.
But many other concerns remain. As Andrew Hoggard highlighted in a letter to Nanaia Mahuta sent before the bill’s third reading, many farmers are exhausted by the pace and direction of myriad changes imposed on the agriculture sector and may choose to opt out of yet another set of regulations by ending current supply arrangements.
Small suppliers will be liable for penalties for breaches under the new regime and there are all sorts of other unanswered questions. For example, how will acceptable solutions be kept simple while catering for the myriad types of schemes in existence? How will legacy issues (e.g. when suppliers’ properties are sold) be addressed? And how will simple easements (many of which are very old) be treated?