water poured into glass in sink

On this page you can find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions the Council has received on the Government's three water reform proposals, what they might mean for Selwyn and what we are doing about it.

 Why are reforms happening?

Currently 67 different councils own and operate the majority of the drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services across New Zealand. Some councils are facing urgent challenges with these services such as maintaining existing infrastructure, complying with water safety standards and environmental expectations.

The Government has decided a comprehensive, system-wide reform is needed to achieve lasting benefits for local councils, communities and the environment.

It also says that the reforms would save ratepayers money in the long run and that it would also result in better, safer services for the nation’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. To achieve this, they propose to invest $120 to $185 billion over the next 30 years to make things right.

(Source: Three Waters Reform Programme - dia.govt.nz)

What is the Government's proposal?

The Government wants to move responsibility for water from individuals Councils to four multi-regional independent organisations with a bottom line of public ownership.

These organisations are called ‘entities’. Selwyn will fall under Entity D which covers the majority of the South Island. Currently the Government has said that being part of an entity is optional and that councils can remain outside this structure if they wish to. However the Government has not ruled out compulsory membership.

Is this just about drinking water?

No, the Government’s proposals will cover drinking water, stormwater and wastewater (sewage).

Will I be paying more for my water under a new entity?

At the moment it is not possible to say exactly whether the cost of water services will be greater under the new entities. The Government believes that the entities will be much cheaper for water users in the long run. Whilst this is certain for some Councils, in Selwyn we still need to analyse the data in more detail.

Will there be public consultation?

We believe that public consultation is appropriate and we are seeking time to allow this to happen. We believe it is important that the community retains a voice in decision-making on water services and infrastructure.

We are aiming to hold public consultation in November.

However, the government can remove the option for Councils to opt out of the reforms and make them mandatory. If this happens we would not be able to hold consultation.

What are the benefits and disadvantages of becoming part of an entity?

Benefits

  • The Government has predicted that costs will be cheaper under a new entity.
  • The scale of the new entity would allow it to borrow enough money to fund the investment needed for water related issues that councils would not otherwise be able to afford.
  • If we become part of an entity the Government will give Selwyn District Council $22.3M to allow a smooth transition and seeks to ensure our Council is no worse off if it opts in. The Council will be able to spend this money on climate change, housing and community well-being.
  • Upholds the Crown’s Treaty of Waitangi obligations.
  • The new entities will be responsible for meeting the new standards set by the Water Regulator (Taumata Arowai).

Disadvantages

  • Selwyn has very new water infrastructure which is in good condition, and we would lose control over this infrastructure if we become part of the new entity.
  • We are confident that our water services are safe and efficient and we have plans in place to keep it that way. By retaining the status quo we ensure those plans are implemented.
  • Our drinking water supply is metered and we currently have some of the most affordable water in New Zealand. We will be able to continue to set our own prices.
  • If we don’t become part of an entity we will lose $22 million package to support the reform process. This will not be available if we chose to join at a later date.
  • We will be responsible for meeting the standards set by the new water regulator. This could be costly.

When will this all happen?

We have provided our initial feedback and questions to the Government and it is now reviewing feedback from all councils around the motu (country). The Government will then set a date by which councils have to decide if they are opting in or out. The new entities will not ‘go live’ until 1 July 2024.

What about private water supplies?

We remain unsure about the plan for private water supplies.  However, no matter what happens the Government will continue to insist that private drinking water supplies are safe for consumers. Who is responsible for this will depend on if Councils opt into an entity.

What about Iwi/Māori interests?

We are committed to working in partnership with our local Rūnanga as we consider the reform proposal. We are in constant and ongoing discussions with iwi/Māori to understand Treaty of Waitangi rights and interests over the course of the reform proposals

Will the reforms stop boil water notices occuring?

The Council continues to meet its aim of eliminating boil water notices and has funding budgeted within its Long-Term Plan to upgrade the last of its schemes which still have intermittent problems. The Government believes that these sort of aspirations are more easily attained by the entities rather than leaving it to councils. There are no guarantees that the new entity will help speed up this process.

How will the public have input into what a new entity does for Selwyn?

Our Council will ‘own’ the water entities on behalf of their communities, with mana whenua having a joint oversight role.  Together they will form a Representative Group that will set expectations for the entity and select an independent panel to appoint the entity board. This Representative Group will be required to report on how consumer and community feedback is incorporated into decision-making.

Will we be handing 50% of our water assets to Iwi?

No – iwi have stated quite clearly that they are not interested in ownership, however they will have an equal share into how the entities are developed and how they are managed and operated.

  Is Selwyn District Council going to hold a referendum to decide whether we opt in or out?

The Council is guided by Sections 77 and 78 of the Local Government Act 2002 which sets our decision-making requirements, and we will observe this legislation. The Act does not stipulate the requirement for a referendum; currently we do not see a formal referendum as part of our consultation process.

Find out more about the Government’s Three Waters Reforms programme.

You can also read the background to the Government’s Three Waters Review.