Taumata Arowai closely monitoring the drinking water situation in Wellington

18 January 2024

As metropolitan Wellington moves to Level Two water restrictions, the water services regulator, Taumata Arowai, has been actively monitoring Wellington Water and its council owners’ actions, to make sure we are ready to act if required so communities continue to have enough water for drinking and sanitary needs over the coming weeks.

The El Niño weather pattern has brought hot dry weather to many parts of New Zealand requiring drinking water suppliers to manage their supplies proactively and carefully.

This coupled with Wellington’s aging network of pipes and the high amount of water leaking from the network has resulted in the need for Wellingtonians, and people visiting the region, to conserve water as the potential for demand to exceed supply increases.

Head of Regulatory, Steve Taylor, said Taumata Arowai is concerned about Wellington’s drinking water supply management challenges.

“In late 2023, we met with Wellington Water, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and other agencies to discuss these challenges,” Mr Taylor said.

“Following this meeting, we've written to Wellington Water (22 December) to set out our expectations. We requested an update from Wellington Water about what actions they, and their council owners, are taking to address the water shortage, demand management, leakage issues, and plans to ensure they can deal with challenges like this in future and pre-emptively mitigate the risks.”

“Our conversations to date have been constructive and are continuing,” Mr Taylor said.

The Water Services Act 2021 sets out the duties water suppliers have to provide a safe and sufficient supply of drinking water to their communities. The Act also includes provisions for the regulator to declare a drinking water emergency to protect public health.

The declaration of a drinking water emergency makes some broad and flexible powers available to Taumata Arowai, which can require water suppliers and others to take or cease certain actions to manage risks to public health.

The regulator expects drinking water suppliers to actively manage the quality and quantity risk to their supply and proactively notify Taumata Arowai when there is a problem.

“Wellington Water has asked if we would consider using the emergency powers available to us under the Water Services Act 2021, specifically letting them take more water than their current resource consents allow. This is under consideration,” said Mr Taylor.

Before declaring a drinking water emergency, we expect the supplier to have exhausted all other avenues to manage the risks to their supply and a clear and serious risk to public health must be established. This includes confirming that work on repairing leaks is no longer effective in keeping up with demand,” Mr Taylor added.

Taumata Arowai is in regular communication with Wellington Water, its council owners, and Greater Wellington Regional Council (which is both a council owner of Wellington Water and the regulator under the Resource Management Act 1991) and still receiving information from them to inform a decision about the potential future use of these emergency powers, should other measures not adequately mitigate the risk to public health. The regulator is also engaging with mana whenua, public health experts, and other agencies. Taumata Arowai must consult with the Minister of Local Government before declaring a drinking water emergency.

The loss of water through leaks is a significant contributor to the water shortage risk. A reduction in leak-related water loss is necessary to avoid Wellingtonians facing a repeat of this situation, or worse, every year. The repeated declarations of drinking water emergencies are not a sustainable approach. Taumata Arowai is exploring the options and tools available under the Water Services Act 2021 so that the underlying issues are appropriately prioritised by Wellington Water and its council owners.

We expect to see short and long-term solutions put in place by Wellington Water and its council owners to assure us that Wellington won’t be in the same position again.

To read the letter we sent Wellington Water please visit: Taumata Arowai letter to Wellington Water Limited - 22 December 2023 | Taumata Arowai

For more information about declaring a drinking water emergency visit: Declaring a drinking water emergency | Taumata Arowai

For more information about water restrictions visit: Our Wai Can Run Dry (wellingtonwater.co.nz)