Thursday, May 19, 2022

New rural water rules four years away

Farmers who supply drinking water to other rural households and who are currently not registered water suppliers can be assured they will have plenty of time to meet future quality standards, chief executive of the new water services regulator Taumata Arowai Bill Bayfield says.

Suppliers who use accepted methods of treatment on water from bores, streams or rain water will meet required standards.

Farmers who supply drinking water to other rural households and who are currently not registered water suppliers can be assured they will have plenty of time to meet future quality standards, chief executive of the new water services regulator Taumata Arowai Bill Bayfield says.

He said the recent debate over aspects of the proposed Three Waters Reform seems to have created concern among farmers about future changes to rural water supply regulations.

However, he says changes are still years away, as the regulator is instead focused mainly on the territorial authorities who supply drinking water to towns of more than 500 people, along with other registered suppliers.

One of the roles of Taumata Arowai, a Crown entity that has only been operational since November, is to ensure that drinking water suppliers follow a duty of care to those who they supply to.

Bayfield said across New Zealand there are about 1200 registered suppliers, but it’s estimated that there are about 75,000 unregistered small suppliers.

“That’s causing consternation, not only for them but also for us because 75,000 is a hell of a lot more than we thought,” Bayfield said.

He said Taumata Arowai is required to first focus on the bigger drinking water suppliers and those 1200 that were already registered, rather than those unregistered small suppliers.

“So, everybody who is unregistered has four years during which they just have to, to the best of their ability, supply safe drinking water,” he said.

“Over those four years we will work out how to make it simple, how to make it straightforward.

“Then at the end of four years we’ll basically map out a path whereby they can register and come on board our regulatory system.”

He said it’s important that the focus is on safe drinking water rather than being too caught up in compliance procedures or people having to spend large amounts of money to prove that their water is pure.

And while the trigger date to start registering is four years down the track, there will be another three years after that when regulations are rolled out and put in place.

Bayfield said Taumata Arowai is also working on creating standards for what are known as acceptable solutions.

“There’s a tool in our Act that says if we produce, engage and consult on an acceptable solution, then somebody, particularly a small operator, can use an acceptable solution and it gets them out of, to be honest, 90% of the bureaucracy,” he said.

He said that means suppliers who use accepted methods of treatment on water from bores, streams or rain water will meet required standards, although finding those accepted solutions will be challenging and require a lot of work, with a realistic timeframe of three to five years to get them in place.

In the meantime, he says small, unregistered suppliers have breathing space.

“We meet people all the time who think they have to do it by tomorrow,” he said.

“They’ve got enough pressure. They don’t need any more.”

Taumata Arowai chief executive Bill Bayfield

Taumata Arowai chief executive Bill Bayfield says unregistered rural drinking water suppliers have four years before any new regulations are rolled out.

Bayfield said he and Taumata Arowai regulatory head Ray McMillan were recently asked by Tasman Mayor Tim King to front a webinar to about 150 farmers in the district about future rural water supply regulations.

He said farmers asked detailed questions about subjects, including their tanks, water takes, the number of neighbours they shared those with, whether it was a mix of rain water and bore water, but the majority of those farmers are currently unregistered suppliers so will fall outside the regulator’s initial focus.

“You could tell that they were quite wound up and the answer was ‘well, you don’t have to worry about this for four years’,” he said.

Even when new rules for current unregistered suppliers come into play, he does not expect them to be so onerous that those suppliers will want to give up control over their water supply.

“It’s our job to make it simple for them to deliver safe drinking water and to meet the standards,” he said.

“That’s what we’re working on.”

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