A new government agency charged with improving national drinking water standards is trying to find more than 50,000 water suppliers, many of whom will be farmers supplying a handful of households.
The new agency called ‘Taumata Arowai’ opened its doors on March 1. It wants to register water suppliers so they can be monitored and asked to comply with national standards for drinking water.
The agency was created under the new Water Services Regulator Act which is likely to become law by mid-year. It will take over the responsibility for New Zealand’s drinking water quality from the Ministry of Health.
The drive to oversee the quality of drinking water came from the Havelock North enquiry which highlighted underperformance in the provision and regulation of drinking water quality.
In its submission on the Water Services Regulator Bill last year Federated Farmers supported the objective of improving drinking water security but raised concerns around the “very wide brief” the agency has, to find and require compliance from all New Zealand’s domestic drinking water suppliers.
Feds local government policy advisor Nigel Billings says the number of situations this law could cover is anywhere between 50,000 and possibly 100,000 entities.
“No one knows how many there are, and there aren’t any easy ways to track them down,” Nigel says.
“This law change means everything from a large metropolitan water network to a small farm supplying a couple of other houses, will be regulated.”
Feds is worried about the impacts on small domestic drinking water suppliers in rural areas that supply other households simply out of common sense and goodwill. These supplies are most often primarily for agricultural purposes. It is much easier to get good water to people this way, rather than build entirely new supply systems.
“We are concerned now that this regulation will require farmers and landowners to meet unrealistic expectations, in terms of the compliance required to continue to be a supplier, and the costs involved.
“Feds has put the suggestion to Taumata Arowai that the regulations, and the compliance required, need to be flexible enough to suit small rural agricultural drinking water schemes,” Nigel says.
“Otherwise, there is a genuine risk that households might be disconnected, as the supplier seeks to protect the provision of agricultural water.”
In its submission Feds said Taumata Arowai will need to be adequately resourced by the government to be able to support local authorities to manage the new regulations.
“Taumata Arowai’s task is a substantial one, and we don’t want to see unnecessary paperwork choke up a system that has genuinely useful goals.”