Taumata Arowai provides new insights into the performance of the water services sector

27 June 2024

Taumata Arowai today published a suite of reports providing the first ever consolidated view of drinking water in Aotearoa New Zealand, as well as commentary on the challenges facing our wastewater and stormwater networks.

The reports, which reflect information provided by water service providers, show that the majority of New Zealanders regularly receive safe drinking water. However, they highlight underlying risks present in our source waters that need to be managed.

The reports also identify information gaps in how public drinking, waste and storm water networks are performing, which may have flow on impacts on maintenance of these networks. 

The suite includes two technical reports based on sector reporting and a summary report.

  • Drinking Water Regulation Report 2023 addresses supplier performance. It includes data and information for 1 January to 31 December 2023 provided by registered drinking water suppliers about the safety and sufficiency of the drinking water they supply.
  • Network Environmental Performance Report 2022/23 includes data and information for the period 1 July 2022 to 30 June 2023 provided by operators of publicly owned drinking water networks, as well as some information about urban public wastewater and urban stormwater networks.
  • Performance Summary of the Water Services Sector 2023 is a summary of the key findings from both reports.

This is the first time Taumata Arowai has published its report on network performance and the third time for the Drinking Water Regulation Report. The intersection of these reports show that the way our water networks are maintained and operated directly affects water suppliers’ ability to provide safe drinking water.

A key finding is that most people in New Zealand have access to safe drinking water, said Taumata Arowai Chief Executive Allan Prangnell.

“Safe drinking water is fundamental to our everyday lives, so this is positive,” he said.

Local and central government are by far the largest providers of drinking water to New Zealanders. Councils collectively operate 529 supplies across the country, serving approximately 4.4 million people.

Mr Prangnell said most council-operated supplies have a drinking water safety plan lodged, where one is required. The number of safety plans lodged increased from 451 supplies (90%) in 2022 to 494 supplies (98%) in 2023. Drinking water safety plans are an important tool for these suppliers to identify and mitigate risks to their drinking water.

The drinking water report shows that most council-operated supplies have multi-barrier protections in place to prevent widespread illness. However, there is definite room for improvement with around one in five treatment plants servicing council-operated supplies not having all the required protections.

“The data indicates that around 489,000 people in New Zealand are receiving water from a public supply with no protozoa barrier,” said Mr Prangnell. “This is significant, given the lack of a protozoa barrier was identified as a likely factor in the outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Queenstown last year.”

Other areas for concern in the report include high levels of notifications for E. coli which indicates the presence of pathogens that can cause illness, and the high number of long-term consumer advisories including ‘boil water’ and ‘do not drink’ notices being issued by suppliers.

Mr Prangnell noted that Taumata Arowai had set a 30 June 2024 deadline for those drinking water suppliers without protozoa, bacterial or residual disinfection barriers to provide a funded plan for getting a multi-barrier treatment plan in place or to contact Taumata Arowai to discuss their challenges.

“From a practical perspective, a multi-barrier approach is the single most effective way to avoid people getting sick from their drinking water.”

Publication of the Network Environmental Performance Report provides a national picture of public drinking water networks, including all council networks, for the first time ever. Nevertheless, there are lots of gaps in the data.

“The data we received from network operators indicates that there is a lot of work to be done to clearly understand the condition of their infrastructure,” said Mr Prangnell.

“It is important that communities have access to this information so they can make informed decisions.

“Without good data, we can’t have a good handle on the state of water infrastructure in New Zealand, and it’s difficult for operators to plan strategic maintenance or upgrades to aging networks.”

Water loss reported by network operators is high across the country and has been in the headlines over summer. However, low levels of reporting and low data confidence indicates that water loss is generally not well understood by operators.

“High water loss and poor maintenance can result in drinking water becoming contaminated through breaks and leaks in pipes as well as increasing the risk of water shortages and the costs of supply,” said Mr Prangnell.

Taumata Arowai will put effort into ensuring that network operators prioritise collecting and monitoring the right information to better understand the performance of their networks. Taumata Arowai will support this uplift, to help identify potential risks to public health and the environment and to inform effective and proactive asset management to reduce costs in the longer-term.

Last month Taumata Arowai published new wastewater environmental performance measures and guidance for wastewater network operators. The measures have been identified to help network operators and the communities they serve, understand the performance of their networks. The measures take effect from 1 July 2024. Taumata Arowai is also looking to establish environmental performance standards that set a minimum baseline for discharges and apply to wastewater networks and their operators.

“Water services in New Zealand have never been subject to this level of scrutiny before,” Mr Prangnell said.

“We are at the start of a journey to collect robust data and improve performance and provide greater public transparency for the benefit of everyone in New Zealand.”

Media contact

Carole van Grondelle +64 212 275 164

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