Drinking-water legislation

The Health Act 1956 was amended by the Health (Drinking-Water) Amendment Act in October 2007 and aims to protect public health by improving the quality of drinking-water provided to communities.

More information on the legislation is provided on this page:


Summary

The Act provides a flexible, risk management based and outcome focused legislative framework for networked drinking-water supplies.

The main duties in the Act apply to supplies that serve:

  • 25 or more people for 60 or more days per year; or
  • if there are fewer than 25 people, but 6000 or more ‘person/days’ (that is the number of people multiplied by the number of days they receive water from the supply).

These main duties include obligations to:

Supplies that serve fewer people need to be included on the Register of Drinking-water Supplies, which is free and involves no other obligations.

The Act commenced on 1 July 2008. All drinking-water suppliers are required to register their drinking-water supply, and comply with the relevant sections of the Act.

The Act also makes reference to rural agricultural drinking-water supplies. Their duties under the Act and suitable methods to demonstrate compliance are set out in the Rural Agricultural Drinking-water Supply Guideline.   

The drinking-water Act does not apply to domestic household supplies if the house has its own water supply. Whether to treat tank water is a decision for each owner depending on individual circumstances and preference.

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Rationale

The enactment of this legislation resulted from a concern that the organisation of New Zealand’s drinking-water supplies was not adequate to safeguard communities. New Zealand had been unusual among developed nations in relying almost entirely on voluntary mechanisms to safeguard the treatment and distribution of drinking-water. This represents a risk to public health in two main ways:

  • Disease rates: – Research by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and the Otago School of Medicine shows that rates of sickness are higher in areas where the water does not meet the standards.
  • Risk of disease outbreak – Untreated drinking-water presents a higher risk of disease than treated drinking water. Distributing untreated drinking-water through a reticulated network presents a higher risk of a major disease outbreak. For example Walkerton (pop 4000), Canada, where 7 deaths and 2321 reported cases resulted from E. coli in May 2000 and the more recent Havelock North outbreak in August 2016.

Estimation of the Burden of Water-borne Disease in New Zealand – Preliminary Report
A preliminary study of waterborne disease in New Zealand.

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What does the Act do?

The Act does the following:

  1. Requires drinking-water suppliers to take all practicable steps to ensure they provide an adequate supply of drinking-water that complies with the New Zealand Drinking-Water Standards;
  2. Requires drinking-water suppliers to develop and implement water safety plans;
  3. Ensures drinking-water suppliers take reasonable steps to contribute to the protection from contamination of sources from which they obtain drinking-water;
  4. Requires officers appointed by the Director-General of Health to act as drinking-water assessors to determine compliance with the Act and the drinking-water standards
  5. Requires record keeping and publication of information about compliance;
  6. Provides for the declaration and management of a drinking-water emergency;
  7. Provides for penalties for non-compliance.

The Act’s Role in the Management of Drinking-Water in New Zealand

Management of drinking-water in New Zealand can be broken into three main parts.

  1. The environment – The source of the water, either from below ground or from surface catchments, is primarily governed by the Resource Management Act 1991.
  2. Water suppliers – This involves obtaining the raw water from the environment, followed by storage, assessment, treatment, and distribution to consumers. Regulation of this system of abstraction and supply was previously managed through a voluntary regime. However the Act now regulates this system of treatment and distribution which requires water suppliers to contribute towards protecting from contamination all sources from which the drinking-water supplier takes raw water. 
  3. Storage and distribution – Storage and distribution of water in tanks and pipes within buildings up to the point of use (generally a tap) is governed by the Building Act 2004. This Act takes over responsibility for water once it leaves a public networked supply and enters the building-owner’s property (usually at the water toby), and also applies to water distributed within a building from its own self-supply (eg, a roof tank or bore).

The system which governs the ‘second part’ of drinking-water management by water suppliers is administered by the Ministry of Health. This system consists of the following elements:

  1. The New Zealand Drinking-Water Standards. These standards are the reference which water quality is measured against, and provide detailed specifications for drinking-water suppliers, including maximum acceptable values for a range of contaminants and monitoring requirements. Under the Act suppliers must take all reasonably practicable steps to comply with the standards.
  2. Register of Drinking-Water Supplies in New Zealand. This register is maintained by ESR on behalf of the Ministry of Health. The register provides information on who is registered as a drinking-water supplier and gives information about their supplies or sources of water. Inclusion on the register is mandatory for all drinking-water supplies or suppliers serving more than 25 people.
  3. Drinking-Water Online. Drinking Water Online was launched in July 2017 and replaces the old Water Information New Zealand databases. It has been built to provide a comprehensive and complementary service for drinking-water supply management and a tool to support the Ministry, the Public Health Units and the wider industry in continuing to meet their obligations under the Health Act 1956
  4. Water Safety Plans. The Act requires all suppliers serving more than 500 people to develop and implement a water safety plan. Water Safety Plans considers the potential risk to the water supply and identifies ways to manage those risks.  Drinking-water suppliers serving less than 500 people are not required to prepare and implement a water safety plan but may do so voluntarily. Effective water management needs to involve multiple interventions at many levels to protect consumers from receiving contaminated water.
  5. The Annual Report on Drinking-Water Quality is published each year and covers previous year’s compliance for all registered networked drinking-water supplies serving more than 100 people. is . The report describes how drinking-water suppliers met the requirements of the Drinking-water Standards for NZ and how they met their statutory requirements of the Health Act. All recent year’s publications can be found on the Drinking-water publications page.
  6. Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality Management in New Zealand. The Guidelines complement the Drinking-Water Standards for New Zealand and provides advice for achieving high level of drinking-water quality management. The Guidelines will assist water suppliers to achieve the Standards and are updated on an ongoing basis with new information.
  7. The use of recognised laboratories. The Act requires that only the Director-General of Health-recognised laboratories may be used to carry out tests and analysis of raw water and drinking-water to demonstrate compliance with the Standards.

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Drinking-Water Assistance Programme

To help suppliers in small, disadvantaged communities (deprivation index of 7 or above) to provide safe drinking-water, and to assist these communities to establish a safe reticulated supply the Government made available the Drinking-water Assistance Programme.  

The programme began in 2005 and was closed to new applicants in 2015. However some water supply projects funded by the programme are still in progress. Water suppliers who are still upgrading their supplies under this programme can access technical assistance and advice through their local Public Health Units.

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Appointment of Drinking-Water Assessors under the Health Act 1956

The Health Act 1956 provides for the Director-General of Health to appoint 1 or more persons or agencies as drinking-water assessors on any terms and conditions that the Director-General considers appropriate (including, without limitation, terms enabling the Director-General to suspend or revoke the appointment in any specified circumstances).  

The Director-General of Health has determined that the following requirements will satisfy him that a person has the experience, technical competence and qualifications to undertake the functions of a drinking-water assessor:

  • at least two years relevant experience in a public health unit or a drinking-water supplier or equivalent;
  • a relevant technical qualification in drinking water;
  • at least six months training and mentoring by a drinking-water assessor (or equivalent); during which core behaviours and competencies have been demonstrated including an understanding of the public health risks caused by unsafe or inadequate drinking-water supplies; 
  • satisfactorily completed the Ministry of Health’s drinking-water foundation training course.

The person must also be accredited to internationally accepted standards for inspection bodies and have in place effective arrangements to avoid or manage any conflicts of interest that may arise.

Appointments of drinking-water assessors will then be subject to the following conditions:

  • completing the NZOQ Management Systems Auditing training within two years of appointment (newly appointed drinking-water assessors);
  • attending a drinking water training course at least every three years (all drinking-water assessors).

Relevant technical qualifications

Examples of relevant technical qualifications in drinking-water are:

  • Diploma in Drinking Water (Drinking-Water Assessment);
  • Diploma in Drinking Water (Water Treatment);
  • Papers 29995, 24906, 29966, 24897, 18456, 18459, 24907, 24912 from any Diploma in Drinking Water (or equivalent from overseas training organisations)
  • Degree in Public Health Engineering
  • Degree in Civil Engineering

Core behaviours and competencies

The Ministry will provide more guidance to prospective employers on the core behaviours and competencies for drinking-water assessors. For example, to be an effective assessor, a drinking-water assessor must be able to develop and maintain effective relationships appropriate between a regulator and the regulated industry including engaging with senior staff at local councils. 

Other DWA appointments

None of the prescribed criteria (current or proposed) prevent the appointment of any individual that the Director-General of Health considers capable of undertaking the role of a drinking-water assessor.  This allows the Director-General to accept individuals who have worked in equivalent roles overseas irrespective of their qualifications. It also allows the Director-General to appoint individuals with a wider range of New Zealand qualifications if they possess equivalent work experience in related industries. 

Register of Drinking-Water Assessors Appointed under the Health Act 1956

Section 69ZX of the Health Act 1956 (as amended by the Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Act 2007) requires the Director-General of Health to maintain a register of agencies that have been appointed as drinking water assessors. 

No agencies have been appointed as drinking water assessors, but a number of individuals have been appointed, which section 69ZK of the Act also provides for.  While not statutorily required, a register of individual drinking water assessors is being maintained.  This register includes the individual's name and employer and the date of their appointment as a drinking water assessor.

The term of appointment for each drinking water assessor is valid until either the drinking water assessor ceases his or her current employment or until it is revoked by notice in writing.

The Director-General of Health has authorised each Drinking Water Assessor to exercise only the following powers set out in the Health Act 1956:

  • the powers conferred in section 69ZP(1)(a) powers of entry;
  • the powers conferred in section 69ZP(1)(b) inspect and copy records;
  • the powers conferred in section 69ZP(1)(c) require information;
  • the powers conferred in section 69ZP(1)(d) supply information and documents;
  • the powers conferred in section 69ZP(1)(e) conduct inspections, surveys, tests;
  • the powers conferred in section 69ZP(1)(f) direct the supply to conduct tests;
  • the powers conferred in section 69ZP(1)(g) take samples;
  • the powers conferred in section 69ZP(1)(h) verify the competence of people performing tests if they are not done by a recognised laboratory;
  • the powers conferred in section 69ZP(1)(i) provide information to the Director-General of Health;
  • the powers conferred in section 69ZQ(1) taking assistants and equipment when exercising power of entry.
Drinking-water assessors

Name

Date of Appointment as DWA

Employer
(District Health Board)

Tatiana Derevianko

28 July 2008

Auckland DHB

Sioeli Takataka

28 July 2009

Auckland DHB

Can Lin (Ken) Zhu 

02 August 2010

Auckland DHB

Xiaoning (Shaun) Yu

24 September 2013

Auckland DHB

Shiwen Sun

16 September 2014

Auckland DHB

Leslie Breach

16 September 2014

Auckland DHB

Shanshan Li

11 January 2017

Auckland DHB

Grant King

17 October 2014

Bay of Plenty DHB

Braden Leonard

8 February 2018

Bay of Plenty DHB

Kirsty Macleod

28 July 2008

Canterbury DHB

Denise Tully

28 July 2008

Canterbury DHB

Judy Williamson

28 July 2008

Canterbury DHB

Helen Judith Graham

26 June 2013

Canterbury DHB

Fiona Humpheson

25 March 2017

Canterbury DHB

Hayley Proffit

25 March 2017

Canterbury DHB

Amelia Jones Haskell

28 May 2017

Canterbury DHB

Joanne Waldon

13 April 2015

Hawke's Bay DHB

Matt Molloy

26 February 2017

Hawke's Bay DHB

Reynold Ball

27 March 2018

Hawke’s Bay DHB

Barbara Stevenson

3 August 2017

Hutt Valley DHB

Vanessa Young

15 October 2015

Hutt Valley DHB

Matt Parkinson

23 July 2018

Hutt Valley DHB

Peter Wood

31 July 2008

MidCentral DHB

Louise Allen

9 November 2016

MidCentral DHB 

Evan McKenzie

23 February 2008

Nelson Marlborough DHB

David Speedy

27 August 2008

Nelson Marlborough DHB

Matt Molloy

19 March 2015

Nelson Marlborough DHB

Zane Jones

27 August 2008

Northland DHB

Matt Molloy

3 September 2015

Northland DHB

Jeffery Garnham

28 May 2017

Northland DHB

Rosemarie Nelson

08 February 2010

Southern DHB

Simon Ou

19 February 2009

Southern DHB

Michael Wong

08 February 2010

Southern DHB

Susan Moore

18 December 2014

Southern DHB

Matt Parkinson

17 January 2011

Taranaki DHB

Murray Lowe

16 August 2017

Taranaki DHB

Justin Hankins

01 July 2008

Waikato DHB

Matt Molloy 

3 November 2016

Waikato DHB 

Estimated cost of compliance

In the simplest form, the water supply system can be thought about in three parts:

  • Source and pre-treatment infrastructure
  • Treatment plant
  • Distribution system

The estimates of cost of compliance with the Drinking-water Standards for New Zealand are generally based on the cost option for upgrading the system to achieve compliance with bacterial, protozoal and chemical requirements of the Standards. In some cases the lowest cost option may not be the option that would be selected by a community for various reasons, however, because of the fixed cost component of a water supply system, the cost would vary significantly with population size across the country. The following resources address the potential costs of compliance with the Act and the drinking-water standards, and an estimate of the more recent economic cost of the Havelock North drinking-water outbreak.

Drinking-water suppliers should comply with the drinking-water standards. However, the duty to comply with the standards is not inflexible.

In considering the drinking-water standards, there are three levels of what is accepted as compliant:

  1. Meeting the standards exactly as they stand
  2. If (i) is not possible, compliance can be met by implementing an approved Water Safety Plan (WSP)
  3. If both (i) and (ii) are not possible then compliance could still be met by demonstrating to the drinking-water assessor/health protection officer/medical officer of health that all practicable steps have been taken to meet the Standards

“All practicable steps” means taking all the steps that are realistic to achieve the required result in that particular circumstance.

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