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Frequently asked questions

We understand there are questions and concerns surrounding the Affordable Waters Reform. We hope to address some of these below.

Yes. The water services entities will be owned by local councils on behalf of their local communities. However, they remain operationally and financially independent from them. The balance sheets of water services entities are required to be sufficiently separate from local government to allow them to achieve higher levels of leverage than local authorities can obtain on their own.

Under the 10-entity model, every territorial authority owner – and therefore every community – will be represented on their respective entity’s regional representative group.

Continued public ownership is a bottom line and the legislation includes extensive safeguards against privatisation. All council owners would need to unanimously agree to any proposal to privatise water services. Even in that unlikely event, it would then require a 75 per cent majority in a public referendum. These protections have been put in place to protect water assets from being privatised.

Each water service entity will be governed by a professional Water Services Entity board, appointed by the Regional Representative Groups.

Members will be appointed for their competencies and experience. These will be merit-based appointments based on a defined and diverse skill set.

The board must include members with appropriate knowledge of te Tiriti o Waitangi/the Treaty of Waitangi, tikanga, and te ao Māori. There is no requirement for co-governance at the board level.

Currently, residents and ratepayers can raise issues about three waters services directly with council. Under the new entity, regional representative groups will be set up to provide regional and local level direction and oversight. They will set the strategic and performance expectations, appoint the board, approve the strategic direction, and monitor the performance of the Water Services Entities in their area.

Local voice has been strengthened. Under the 10-entity model, every territorial authority owner – and therefore every community – will be represented on the entity’s regional representative group. Mana whenua will have equal representation on the regional representative groups alongside councils in each entity area.

Regional Advisory Panels are also expected to be established to provide advice on matters such as investment priorities and expectations regarding service standards in their local areas.

Water services entities will be required to consult with their customers, businesses, and residents on their strategic direction, investment priorities, their prices and charges, and work closely with local authorities to ensure water infrastructure provides for growth and development in spatial plans.

Each entity will be required to engage with communities in a meaningful and effective manner on all key accountability documents like Asset Management Plans and Funding and Pricing Plans.

The entities will have to report on how consumer and community feedback was incorporated into their decision-making. This responsiveness and accountability to communities exceed the current requirements in the Local Government Act.

One of the key drivers for reforms is affordability. After decades of under-investment in water infrastructure, the level of funding required over the next 30 years is unaffordable under current funding arrangements.

The 10 water services entities will be much bigger than any individual council and will be able to raise much greater levels of debt to fund the investment needed. The reforms will also ensure repayment of debt for water infrastructure is spread over a long-time horizon, rather than front-loaded onto today’s ratepayers.

Households already pay for water as part of their rates. In the future, they will pay their new Water Services Entity for these services.

The table below compares the average household costs in 2054 (expressed in 2022 dollars) for each council under the status quo with the estimated average household costs under the 10-entity model. Savings are expressed in today’s dollars and as a percentage of estimated costs under the status quo.

The Government has claimed that the average cost of three waters services to Far North households would decrease significantly under its reform proposal over the long term. It is important to note that these are estimates of how investment in three waters infrastructure is likely to impact households. They don’t include impacts that climate change may have on three waters infrastructure. The figures also don’t include costs that councils may incur on behalf of ratepayers if they have to take over private water supplies that aren’t able to meet new water quality standards.

A report commissioned by Whangārei District Council casts doubt over the assumptions and analysis the Government used to calculate future costs. However, the Department of Internal Affairs believes the Whangārei report misrepresents the evidence base supporting the reform proposals and reaches conclusions that are not well-supported by evidence from similar reforms in other areas. Modelling that Far North District Council commissioned suggests that ratepayers in the Far North are likely to be considerably better off under the reform programme.

With the changes to the original three waters reform proposal, the go-live date for most entities was moved from 1 July 2024 to 1 July 2026. However, as Entity A (the northern entity) remained unchanged, we are expected to stick to the original date of 1 July 2024.

This means staff across Far North, Kaipara, Whangarei and Auckland councils are already busy supporting the Department of Internal Affairs and the National Transition Unit to stand up Entity A and ensure a smooth transition for customers.

Te Mana o te Wai is a fundamental principle guiding reform for each water services entity (WSE) to make decisions on how best to deliver water services to all communities. Under the Water Services Entities Act 2022, WSEs are required to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai.

Te Mana o te Wai:

  • Refers to the importance of water and recognises that protecting the health and wellbeing of freshwater protects the health and wellbeing of the wider environment
  • Is a transformative mechanism focused on re-aligning the relationship between people and water in all its forms to ensure the well-being of our waters
  • Is the responsibility of all New Zealanders to uphold and prioritise the health of our water. To do this, Te Mana o te Wai must be at the forefront of all decisions
  • Will enable structural change that benefits not only our water and water services but also the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders.

Last updated: 02 Apr 2024 4:35pm