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

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 storm events that in some cases 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 Entitles (WSEs) which will all be fully operational by 1 July 2026. 

These entities 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 and is referred to as a mixed-use asset. The management of mixed-use assets will transfer to a WSE where the use of that infrastructure is predominantly for stormwater. However, in some cases where land is deliberately allowed to flood during significant weather events and its primarily purpose is as a sports ground, it remains the responsibility of the local council. 

In either case, the council and the relevant WSE will have an agreement in place to co-manage the mixed-use asset between its alternative use and stormwater function.  

While urban stormwater infrastructure shifts to WSEs, for rural communities little changes under the WSEs – the responsibility for rural stormwater, or land drainage remains with existing private landowners and councils.

Other infrastructure that does not move to a WSE includes private stormwater networks, stormwater infrastructure on roads and rail corridors, rural land drainage systems and regional council owned river and flood management functions and infrastructure.

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. 

Before responsibility for stormwater transfers to the WSEs, the NTU is working with councils, Māori/iwi, and other stakeholders to ensure the legal transfer of all areas of stormwater management and service delivery from councils.

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