Water Services Reform

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As our towns and cities grow, the concentration of people living their everyday lives and hard surfaces like roads and roofs increases the volume and contaminants in run off from rainfall.

Stormwater infrastructure

As our towns and cities grow, the concentration of people living their everyday lives and hard surfaces like roads and roofs increases the volume and contaminants in runoff from rainfall.

Our urban stormwater network infrastructure is designed to manage the impact of rainwater runoff on people, property, and the environment.

Urban stormwater networks rely on a mix of pipes below the ground and above ground drains, overland flow paths and, increasingly, green stormwater infrastructure like man-made wetlands that have been designed to reduce and slow down water flows, treat contaminants in stormwater, and carry stormwater safely into our streams, rivers, and coastal waters.

Our urban stormwater networks are increasingly under pressure as populations grow and urban areas continue to expand. Climate change intensifies that impact, increasing the frequency of high-intensity storm events which exceed the existing networks’ capacity, resulting in flooding.

The Reforms

We need to change how we deliver water services to meet the challenges ahead from ageing infrastructure, population growth, historical under-investment, and the growing impacts of climate change.

The proposed water reforms will shift the responsibility for managing our urban stormwater networks from the current 67 local councils to ten new publicly owned Water Services Entities (WSEs) which will be established across a staggered timeframe - with all entities going live between 1 July 2024 and 1 July 2026.

These WSEs will be better able to focus solely on delivering three waters services and their increased scale will support a lift in financial and technical capacity and capability that is needed to address the challenges ahead. The WSEs progress towards meeting the challenges will be subject to oversight and regulation by Taumata Arowai, regional councils and the new economic regulator.

New Zealanders will pay less for water services with reform than without.

While responsibility for urban stormwater networks shifts to the WSEs, councils will continue to have an important role both as the owners and operators of stormwater infrastructure servicing road and rail corridors, and as community stewards of urban parks and waterways.

Green stormwater infrastructure is often located on public land such as parks or reserves and in these cases are referred to as a ‘mixed-use asset’ (having both a stormwater and another function, such as recreation). The operation of mixed-use assets will transfer to a WSE where the use of that asset is predominantly for stormwater purposes. However, in some cases where land is deliberately allowed to flood during significant weather events, but its primarily purpose is as a sports ground, the council and WSE will provide for the management of both primary and secondary stormwater function through a relationship agreement. 

While urban stormwater assets shift to WSEs, for rural communities little changes with the water reform – the responsibility for rural stormwater and land drainage remains with existing private landowners and councils.

Other infrastructure that does not transfer to a WSE includes private stormwater networks, urban watercourses and overland flowpaths on public land (including council owned land) stormwater infrastructure on roads and rail corridors, rural land drainage systems and regional council owned river and flood management functions and infrastructure.

The WSE will have the primary responsibility for managing and maintaining urban watercourses on the WSE’s land or on private land (natural or man-made open channels where water flows and collects e.g., rivers, gullies, ditches, and culverts) that have a stormwater function. However, these private landowners will also have some responsibilities to maintain watercourses and overland flow paths, and the WSE may create stormwater rules to protect the stormwater function of urban water courses so they do not create risks and hazards for others.

Each WSE must have a stormwater management strategy which will set out the needs and risks of the stormwater network in the WSE’s service area. The goal of the stormwater management strategy is to protect the environment, reduce pressure on stormwater drainage systems, minimise flooding to protect people and property, and help create healthy and sustainable communities.

The National Transition Unit (NTU) was set up to ensure a consistent and coordinated approach to shifting stormwater assets and functions to WSEs for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

The NTU is working closely with councils, Māori/iwi, and other stakeholders to support the transition of urban stormwater management and service delivery from councils to the WSE.

For more information on the Water Services Entities, mixed-use stormwater assets, stormwater infrastructure that will not transfer to WSEs, urban watercourses, and rural stormwater read the Stormwater Factsheet