Explainer: Water Services Act 2021 (Updated)

July 11, 2022

Summary

The Water Services Act 2021 (‘Act’) commenced 15 November 2021.This Act is part of the Three Waters Reforms. It establishes drinking water standards and regulates all persons and organisations that supply drinking water.

 

Key provisions

Supplier

Previously only large scale water suppliers were captured by health regulations. Under the Act, any person who supplies water to another household or dwelling, which may be used for drinking water, is likely to be caught by the Act. Supply has a broad definition and could include anyone with drinking water infrastructure (e.g. pipes) on their property.

This also means there could be multiple Suppliers along the water supply chain.

Duties

Suppliers will have significant new duties including:

-       Registering their supply;

-       Complying with drinking water standards, including aesthetic standards;

-       Providing sufficient quantities;

-       Having a drinking water safety plan;

-       Notifying the new authority (Taumata Arowai) and local authorities of any risk or hazard to the water;

-       Maintaining records of supply, compliance and monitoring (that will need to be done via an accredited lab);

-       Providing specified information and a complaints process for those consuming the water; and

-       Paying fees and levies as Taumata Arowai requires.

These duties are imposed on a wide range of people, and can extend to those working or volunteering for the supplier.

Penalties

There are significant penalties for breaching the Act. For example, a failure to register a drinking water supply can result in a maximum fine of $50,000 for the individual and $200,000 for a body corporate.

Private criminal prosecution is also allowed if Taumata Arowai is not taking a complaint further.

If you want to understand more about the Act, you can access the brief we produced for the Water Users' Group here

 

Next steps

The Act commenced on 15 November 2021, but will fully come into force over the next seven years. Taumata Arowai is required to under take engagement and consultation on significant regulations, including on the water standards themselves. In early 2022, Taumata Arowai published the following draft water standards and rules:

 

Drinking Water Standards

 

The new drinking water standards will set Maximum Acceptable Values for contaminants in drinking water. These draft values cannot be exceeded at any time, and apply to all suppliers regardless of how many people are being supplied to.

 

Drinking Water Aesthetic Values

 

Drinking water suppliers have a duty under the Water Services Act to provide aesthetically acceptable water. Aesthetic standards are measured by the look, taste and odour of the water. They do not directly indicate the safety of the drinking water.

 

Drinking Water Quality Assurance Rules

 

These rules provide the minimum requirements drinking water suppliers must comply with to demonstrate they are supplying safe drinking water.

 

In addition to these standards, Taumata Arowai has provided draft Acceptable Solutions for roof water supplies and bore drinking water. Eligible suppliers may adopt Acceptable Solutions to meet compliance obligations under the Water Services Act, and will not need to provide a drinking water safety plan.

 

Taumata Arowai has also published draft environmental performance requirements which impose further recording and reporting requirements for drinking water network operators.

 

These drafts were made available for public consultation between 17 January and 28 March 2022. Taumata Arowai is analysing the submissions received and will provide an overview of any changes made to the final rules and standards.

Taumata Arowai has now released the finalised Drinking Water Standards and Aesthetic Values, and has provided a summary of the submissions receieved. Both will come into effect on 14 November 2022.

If you are interested in understanding more about what your obligations may be under the Water Services Act or are interested in the consultation process, please contact Brigitte Morten.

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