Water reform is coming
The Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry (Inquiry) stemmed from a major outbreak of campylobacteriosis in Havelock North in August 2016 (Outbreak). The Stage 1 Report, released on 8 May 2017, identified the cause of the outbreak and assessed the conduct of those responsible.
The Stage 2 Report (Report), released on 6 December 2017, addressed the 24 issues identified by the Inquiry in light of its terms of reference, the matters emerging from Stage 1 of the Inquiry, and submissions from interested parties. These issues relate broadly to the safety of drinking water, lessons learned from the Outbreak, and changes required to the regulatory framework.
The Report draws a number of conclusions about the regulation of drinking water in New Zealand. In particular, the Report notes that, "[t]hese findings [the findings made in Stage 2 of the Inquiry] point to a widespread systemic failure among water suppliers to meet the high standards required for the supply of safe drinking water to the public". The Report also records that "[t]here is currently no adequate or effective enforcement of the statutory obligations on water suppliers" and that "the administration of the present system of regulation does not ensure that water suppliers comply with the law and DWSNZ [drinking water standards]."
The Report separates the 51 recommendations into those that do not require changes to existing law or detailed reviews and consultation (urgent and early recommendations), and those that do (Further Recommendations). The recommendations are specifically directed at mitigating or preventing the problems identified by the Inquiry. The urgent and early recommendations include:
- Promulgating the fundamental principles of drinking water safety to the water sector and using these principles to inform the operation of drinking water systems.
- Abolishing the existing secure classification system, which no longer provides a safe basis for dispensing with treatment or reducing monitoring requirements.
- Encouraging the universal treatment of water by requiring the Director-General to advise on and encourage water suppliers to use appropriate and effective treatment without delay.
- Establishing an independent Drinking Water Regulator (Regulator), who should have authority over licensing, compliance and enforcement of water quality regulation. Pending the creation of a Regulator, a Drinking Water Regulation Establishment Unit should be established (which should replace the existing drinking water team within the Ministry of Health).
- Requiring the Ministry of Health to take urgent steps to administer and enforce the existing regulatory regime.
- Amending the Resource Management Act (specifically sections 6 and 30) to expressly recognise the protection and management of drinking water sources as a matter of national importance.
- Accelerating the review of the National Environmental Standards (NES) Regulations.
- Encouraging Joint Working Groups to be responsible for the oversight of drinking water safety in their respective regions.
- Urgently amending the Health Act specifically section 69P (the obligation to consult) and section 69R (commencement of DWSNZ), which restrict any change being made to the DWSNZ within five years.
In the long-term, the Report recommends amending the existing legal, technical and licensing requirements of the water sector, reviewing the level of resourcing and capabilities of various industry bodies and updating process and regimes, such as that currently required for testing and laboratories.
The Government has advised that it has written to Mayors and District Health Boards throughout New Zealand to ensure the water they are supplying residents meets current standards. The Minister of Health, Dr David Clark, is expected to brief Cabinet before Christmas on the next steps the Government will take in response to the Report. It is expected that there will be extensive changes to the regulatory framework for drinking water arising as a result of the Report.
The full Report can be found here.