< July 2021 newsletter

Three Waters Reform – further constitutional change by stealth

In another step in what the Government terms ‘partnership-based reform’ Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta last week released further information on plans to move the ownership and management of water infrastructure from local councils into the hands of four multi-regional water service entities across New Zealand. This information includes the proposed boundaries of the four water providers, and further details on the proposed water services entities - including governance arrangements, how they would be regulated, and the role of iwi. Nanaia Mahuta stated: “The Government will continue to work with the sector, iwi and industry on some of the details to give these transformational reforms the best chance of success. We will be making further announcements in the coming weeks, including a three waters reform support package for councils and their communities’’.

This follows the early June release of seven reports from the Water Industry Commission of Scotland (WICS 4 reports), Farrierswier (1 Report), and Deloittes (2 reports) which government consider make a compelling case for change. (See Central/Local Government Three Waters Reform Programme for copies of these reports).

However, despite the claim by Minister Mahuta that the Government water reforms would build economic resilience and save ratepayers money, and that no council will be worse off as a result of it, a growing number of Councils appear to be far from convinced about several aspects of the water service delivery programme. As these reports only provided aggregated national-level data, they did not give enough Council-specific data to allow Councils to determine the effects on them or their ratepayers. This high degree of uncertainty about outcomes has hindered Councils’ ability to make informed decisions.

A report presented to the Whangarei District Council (WDC) on June 29 revealed that the Department of Internal Affairs has refused an Official Information Act request to provide WDC with specific information which shows that Whangarei ratepayers would be better off under the reform programme. The report states that “We know that the information must exist as WDC (and other Councils) disclosed the relevant data to WICS at DIA’s request. The DIA response is of concern as it does not seem to meet the ‘good faith’ obligations of the MoU, and the data was supplied to DIA’s agent (WICS) some months earlier.”

There is also disquiet round the country about the removal of local democratic control over water assets. Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta is proposing a programme of change which would erode the mechanisms whereby citizens hold decision-makers to account. The proposed entities would be able to impose huge costs without being accountable, even indirectly, to the communities who will pick up the bills.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has expressed doubt about the proposed reforms:

 "Aucklanders have invested heavily in building up Watercare's more than $10 billion worth of assets, with a further $11 billion invested in water infrastructure in our current 10-year Budget," he says. "Control over those assets, and our ability to ensure that Aucklanders' needs are put first, is undermined by the reform, which proposes that we could have less than 40 per cent of the council representation in the governance of the new entity. This is even though 92 percent of the assets of the new entity would come from Auckland, and Auckland would have approximately 90 percent of the population served by the new entity."

Similar concerns have been raised by the Whangārei District Council, which has voted to withdraw from the plan. The council has invested in water infrastructure and wants to protect its assets. 

"We've got supply, we've got storage, we've got a treatment plant, a brand-new state-of-the-art treatment plan," Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai told Newshub. "We've got 1.5 million people in Auckland and 200,000 in the region, so how does our voice be heard?"  

Constitutional change by stealth - Mana Whenua to be given equal rights with Councils in governing water entities

In a policy incompatible with democracy, iwi/Māori would be involved as partners in the new programme. This includes influence over the objectives, strategy, priorities and performance expectations of the proposed entities.

Please see below further information from the Department of Internal Affairs on the proposed water service entities, including a map highlighting the proposed boundaries of the four entities, and an economic impact assessment of the proposed reforms.



Download as PDF

Opt-in, Opt-out, or Compulsory Reform?

The Government claims that the reform programme is being progressed through a voluntary, partnership-based approach with the local government sector, alongside iwi/Māori as the Crown’s Treaty Partner. Councils have previously been told by both officials and Ministers that the process is voluntary. However, the Cabinet paper of 14 December 2020 hints that if the objectives of the reforms are at risk, the reform may be made compulsory. This suspicion has been further backed up when Minister Mahuta refused to deny this possibility when recently asked by National MP, Christopher Luxon.

Another ‘stick’ for Councils to consider when deciding whether to opt out is the hefty fines for breaching the duty to supply safe drinking water. See Clause 163 Water Services Bill. (N.B. this Bill is still at the select committee stage).

The Government is due to release a public consultation document on its proposals for the water service entities in mid-2021.


Central/Local Government Three Waters Reform Programme

Cabinet Paper and Minute: protecting and promoting Iwi/ Māori interests in the new water services delivery reforms 14 June 2021

Proactive release of Cabinet material related to progressing the three waters service delivery reforms, 14 December 2020

Whangarei District Council meeting agenda 29 June 2021

Media coverage

Scoop: Statement from Mayor Phil Goff on Three Waters Reform Proposal

Newshub: Multibillion-dollar Three Waters reforms proposed to stop average household bills reaching $9000 by 2051

Go back to the July 2021 newsletter


New Land and Water Regional Plan for Otago Regional Council

Image source: https://www.orc.govt.nz/media/11399/hierarchy-of-plans.jpg The Otago Regional Council (ORC) is in the process of developing a new Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) - in partnership with Kāi Tahu iwi. Together, they are talking with catchment groups, industry groups and subject experts to help develop the region’s new Plan for freshwater. This plan will include rules and limits on water and land use. Continue reading


All Water Services Entities will be required to give effect to Te Mana o Te Wai. Three of its six principles will encompass all aspects of the water delivery system - specifically Mana whakahaere, Kaitiakitanga, and Manaakitanga. These principles are to be defined by tangata whenua. Continue reading

Three Waters reform to give iwi/Māori dominating influence

As the Government releases more information about its Three Waters reforms, it is becoming obvious that the proposed system is to be dominated by the rights and interests of iwi/Māori. The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) Three Waters paper ‘Opportunities for Iwi/Māori in the Three Waters Reform’ sets out how this will be achieved.  Continue reading

Update on the Three Waters Reform Programme

Early last year many of us made submissions on the Water Services Regulator Bill. Following the public consultation process the Government passed the Taumata Arowai – Water Services Regulator Act in July 2020. The reform programme is now being progressed through a voluntary, partnership-based approach with the local government sector, alongside iwi/Māori as the Crown’s Treaty Partner.  Continue reading

Partnership trumps good governance - the Taupō water monitoring deal

The Waikato Regional Council is planning to outsource the monitoring of the waters in and around Lake Taupo and its tributaries to the Tūwharetoa Maori Trust Board. This is despite the Council having identified the risk that it may be expected to undertake similar agreements with other iwi authorities or local authorities that may result in not being able to deliver on expectations due to competing priorities.   Continue reading

Influential role for Maori at new Water Services Regulator

Taumata Arowai—the Water Services Regulator Bill, open for public submissions until 4th March, seeks to create a new water regulator - to be called Taumata Arowai. The Bill includes provision for a Maori advisory group to work alongside this new Crown entity. The Maori Advisory Group is another manifestation of the government’s commitment to support agencies to form true partnerships with Māori "by actively facilitating new prototype partnerships between the Crown and Māori", as outlined in a cabinet paper released in July 2019, 'Building Closer Partnerships with Māori'. Continue reading

Action Plan for Healthy Waterways

Thank you to everyone who took the opportunity to make a submission on the Government’s 'Action for Healthy Waterways' discussion document. Around seventeen and a half thousand submissions were received, reflecting much interest in the proposals. From a democracy point of view, it is of great concern that several proposals point to the undermining of the democratic control of water, and include the intention to require local authorities to compulsorily include a vague and undefined set of values and interests in the management of the water bodies and freshwater ecosystems in their region. Continue reading

Have your say on looking after our water

The Ministry for the Environment is proposing a raft of legislative and regulatory changes to clean up lakes and rivers within “a generation”.  Continue reading


Last week the Waitangi Tribunal released its report on stage 2* of the National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources inquiry. The report recommends two specific amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 and a number of paths and mechanisms for co-governance and co-management. Continue reading

Iwi seeking governance of the Marine & Coastal Area, and authority over water

On March 26 Maori claimants from around the country gathered to make submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal for the rights to their coastal water areas, saying that since the foreshore and seabed march in 2004, progress has been slow in recognising iwi governance of their marine and coastal areas. Continue reading

Maori Council demands the control of water

The Waitangi Tribunal has recently been hearing the final part of stage of two of its inquiry into a variety of claims relating to New Zealand’s fresh water resources. (A list of the matters the Tribunal is focusing on is available on the Waitangi Tribunal website, see HERE.) Continue reading

Government's Freshwater Policy

The government released its water policy last month, see HERE. It avoids dealing with the question of ownership, instead focusing first on cleaning up rivers, and then looking into the more difficult issue of water allocation. Continue reading

Our key concerns with the Water Services Entities Bill

The impact of the Water Services Entities Bill will be profound. The public and many local authorities appear to share many common concerns about provisions set out in the Bill. These include: Continue reading

Government to force Three Waters scheme despite overwhelming opposition

The controversial Three Waters legislation is one step closer - the Water Services Entities Bill was introduced to the House last week. Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said it was the first of several pieces of legislation concerning the proposed water entities. Continue reading

Taxpayers’ Union takes to the streets to fight Three Waters

Christchurch was the first of 39 stops in a nationwide roadshow run by the Taxpayers’ Union to oppose the Government’s Three Waters reform. Executive director Jordan Williams said the tour was being held to hear and highlight the concerns of ratepayers and local councils opposed to the “undemocratic three waters asset grab.” Continue reading

Three Waters - Government removes vital information from public view

The Water Users’ Group legal challenge to the Government’s Three Waters Reform proposal has met an unexpected snag: “Something strange happened in December after we filed our High Court application for judicial review. Crown Law asked us to redact information that was previously in the public arena,” Stephen Franks writes in a recent communication to supporters of the Water Users’ Group. Continue reading

Three Waters update - Mayors still not convinced

It appears the Recommendations Report by the working group set up by the Government to address major national concerns around Three Waters has done nothing to quell the fears of many councils. Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said the working group's recommendations to Government around dealing with the three sticking points of representation, governance and accountability simply made her council more determined in its High Court Three Waters challenge. “Our concerns remain regarding democratic accountability, and ownership rights and responsibilities…….” Continue reading

Three Waters Legal Challenge Underway

You may not have heard of the Water Users’ Group. This is a group of concerned citizens who are taking legal action against the Labour Government’s plan "giving some Māori the effective control of more than a hundred billion dollars of ratepayer funded three waters assets". A link to the Group's website is here: www.waterusers.org.nz Continue reading

Major survey: Kiwis demand consultation on Three Waters

The most comprehensive polling to date on the Government’s Three Water reforms reveals the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders believe the Government should consult with them over the highly contentious policy proposal. Continue reading


Incensed at the Government forcing through a plan for four mega entities to take over the country’s three waters infrastructure and service delivery - despite widespread opposition from 60 of the country’s 67 councils, and the promise from the government that their proposal was optional – three councils have banded together to file an application in the court against Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta and Secretary for Internal Affairs Paul James. Continue reading

Outrage at power grab - “a dark day for democracy”

"A deceitful, lying pack of bastards," exclaimed Masterton councillor Tina Nixon on hearing that the government will force councils to hand control of their water assets to four mega water entities, despite the previous promise to Councils that they could choose to opt in or out of the proposed reform programme.  Continue reading


There is strong level of opposition across the country to the Government’s proposed Three Waters service delivery programme. Comments from councillors show very serious concerns. In some quarters there appears to be a suspicion that the Government is not being completely open about everything it is seeking to achieve.   Continue reading

Government plans to seize ratepayers’ assets - without compensation

Local Government Minister Hon Nanaia Mahuta has announced further details of the Government's regulatory and structural reform of water service delivery in New Zealand. The plan is for an unprecedented transfer of billions of dollars of ratepayer-funded assets from local bodies to four entities. Continue reading

Next Steps for Three Waters Reform

This is a complex set of reforms the Government intends to implement in stages over the next three years.  The first stage was the Water Services Regulator Act - which created the water services regulator ‘Taumata Arowai’. This body will oversee and enforce a new drinking water regulatory framework, and have oversight of the management of our wastewater and stormwater networks. This is designed to ensure that minimum water standards are met no matter who the supplier. This new Crown entity is currently being established, and will become responsible for drinking water regulation when the second stage, the Water Services Bill, is passed, which is expected to be mid-2021. Continue reading