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Three waters reform

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Currently, councils own and operate the majority of drinking water, wastewater (sewerage) and stormwater services across New Zealand. That will likely change, as central Government intends to build a better system for our three waters, that will achieve lasting benefits for communities and the environment.

This would mean that management of New Zealand’s three water services would transfer from 67 local councils to four new, multi-regional entities. Those entities would remain in public ownership.

Councils throughout New Zealand were asked to assess the latest Government information over an eight-week review period and provide their feedback before 1 October. 

Council and Tangata Whenua feedback and the results of an online community survey have been shared with Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts, we appreciate your input and will let you know when we know what the Government’s next steps are going to be. 

Tauranga City Council, Community and Tangata Whenua feedback (294kb pdf) 
Three Water’s Reform report (3.5mb pdf) 
Key things you need to know about the Three Waters Reform (3mb pdf) 

The big picture

We know our community expects to turn on the tap and have safe drinking water; to flush the toilet and have their sewerage taken to a treatment plant; and for rainwater to drain away without flooding. That’s the case now and that’s how it should remain in the future.

The good news is that Tauranga is in a fortunate position – we have invested sensibly in our three water services and will continue to do so. We are currently amongst the best water service providers in New Zealand. However, we also acknowledge that there are challenges in the provision of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater and by international standards there is still considerable work to do.

To ensure we are heading in the right direction, we have already moved to a shared model with our neighbouring council, Western Bay of Plenty District Council. Rising environmental standards and the pressures of growth will require continuing and significant investment to ensure that Tauranga stays ahead of the game – for the benefit of our communities and our environment.

The intent of nationwide water reform is to ensure that all New Zealand communities receive better service quality and more affordable water services. Tauranga City Council is participating in the reform process and supports its aims, but we have yet to make any decisions about our future involvement.

Commissioners’ thoughts 

Initial discussions on the reform process began last year, as part of the Government’s post-COVID economic stimulus focus. Tauranga has been working with councils from the Waikato and Bay of plenty regions to identify the issues and opportunities a combined water entity might involve.

In our view, the three waters reform proposal offers an opportunity to create an effective delivery model, while ensuring that the significant national investment needed to build a better water future is available, when and where it is needed. 

At the same time, we have identified a number of issues that we are actively raising with central Government on the community’s behalf. 

These include:

  • ensuring that our communities have an opportunity to provide local input into the reform process 
  • protecting our water assets against privatisation
  • clarifying how we manage our water assets and staff during a transition period
  • ensuring that Tauranga’s growth needs will be met in a timely fashion, and given appropriate consideration within Entity B’s priorities
  • the impact of the reforms on stormwater, as the focus has mainly been on drinking water and wastewater.

Right now, we are carefully considering the potential impact of the reform, identifying areas of concern (like those above) and advocating for the best outcomes to meet the economic, social, cultural and environmental aspirations of our communities. We have until the end of September to provide our feedback to the Government.

Thank you to everyone who shared their feedback with us. We’ll be collating and presenting that feedback to our commissioners at the Council meeting on 4 October – you are welcome to listen in via our live stream. We’ll keep you posted on next steps as we hear more from the Government.

Questions and answers

‘Three Waters’ is the delivery and management of clean drinking water; wastewater (sewerage) reticulation, treatment and disposal; and stormwater management.

'Reform’ is about making improvements that will benefit the whole country.

The three waters reform is focused on finding a better way to fund and operate our drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services so that everyone in New Zealand has access to safe, reliable and affordable water services. That involves taking-over the responsibility of water services from councils and handing it to specialist entities to deliver and manage. Today, 67 different councils own and operate three water services across New Zealand. However, the Government is proposing to establish four new, publicly-owned, multi-regional entities to take on this role.

Because councils are facing challenges in the provision of quality water services to meet the growing demands of their communities.

In particular:

  • funding the necessary infrastructure, such as water and wastewater treatment plants, pipes, etc
  • complying with safety standards and environmental expectations
  • building resilience to natural hazards and climate change into three waters networks
  • supporting growth – more people, means more demands on infrastructure.

The effective delivery of waters services is essential for our communities and includes:

  • safe drinking water, safe disposal of wastewater and effective stormwater drainage
  • adequate supply of cost-effective waters services for housing, businesses and community services
  • well-managed extraction of drinking water, and careful disposal of treated wastewater and stormwater so that our environment is protected.

Evidence shows that significant national investment is needed to continue to offer effective water service delivery. If the model stays as it is (council-ownership and management), service quality will be variable, and services will become unaffordable for many New Zealanders. Reform will enable communities across New Zealand to benefit from scale and operational efficiencies, making it more cost-effective in the long-run.

The reform would mean a significant change for council, and for the way drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services are delivered to our community in the future.

Tauranga is likely to be part of a central North Island entity (known as ‘Entity B’) involving 22 councils in the greater Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki and Manawatu-Whanganui areas.

We’ll know more as the Government makes further decisions, but for now, nothing changes. If the reform goes ahead, any change would only come into place in 2024, so we would continue to manage water services until then.

A key building block of the reform will be a partnership with tangata whenua, in accordance with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The reform is also aimed at delivering the outcomes of Te Mana o te Wai, a set of principles co-designed with iwi/Māori to lift the water quality of our streams, rivers and lakes. 

A partnership brings the opportunity to incorporate the value of mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) alongside western systems to facilitate the best outcomes for New Zealand communities. The reform provides an opportunity to start this process side-by-side.

We recognise and support the need for iwi/Māori to work alongside council to ensure that any reform doesn’t adversely impact existing rights and interests. We also see value in the perspective tangata whenua can offer as the reforms unfold.

Locally, we have committed to working in partnership with Te Rangapū Mana Whenua o Tauranga Moana (the representative group for our iwi and hapū in Tauranga).

We have been working with 16 other councils from across the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions to understand and prepare for water reform.

We are New Zealand’s two fastest growing regions and ensuring water services meet the needs of our current and future communities is a critical priority. We are working together for the greater good of our two regions, but acknowledge that there are some regional differences, so we will advocate for the best outcome for our respective local communities. We’re regularly engaging with Ministers and key officials around the three waters reform programme. There are still questions to be answered and details to be worked through around what the Government is proposing. It will take time to assess the situation and determine the best course of action.

Water is a utility business (like electricity or telecommunications) and, if it were separated from councils, specialist water entities would be able to sustainably borrow more money to invest in services, leaving councils with better balance sheet capacity to meet community needs.

This is considered best practice in delivering infrastructure services.

A final decision has not been made by the Government, so a referendum is not applicable right now.

Currently, we’re in the process of providing feedback to the Government – we have until the end of September to do that. We’re participating in the reform process, but we have yet to make any decisions about Tauranga’s future involvement.

Thank you for sharing your feedback with us

Our feedback form is now closed. 

Council, Tangata Whenua and Community feedback has been shared with Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta. 

We’ll keep you posted on next steps as we hear more from the Government.


  • The Government undertakes a comprehensive survey of all councils. See findings.

    Early 2021
  • DIA-led public information campaign starts.

    June 2021
  • Government announces the indicative boundaries of the proposed four, multi-regional entities. Boundaries to be confirmed in September.

    July 2021
  • Information provided from the Government to councils, including funding package details.

    July 2021
  • Period for council to raise issues/concerns and seek clarification with the Government. Residents can share their issues/concerns with council.

    August/September 2021
  • Our feedback to the Government is due. See our feedback.

    End of September 2021

Thank you for sharing your feedback with us

Our feedback form is now closed. 

All feedback will be collated and presented to commissioners at the Council meeting on 4 October – you are welcome to listen in via our live stream

We’ll keep you posted on next steps as we hear more from the Government.


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