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Source: New Zealand Ministry of Health

A push by the Ministry of Health to increase awareness among drinking-water suppliers of their responsibilities has led to tighter auditing and a boost in overall compliance, with standards up by 2.4% compared to last year.

There was also a slight decrease in overall legislative compliance for all supplies – a drop of 0.5% compared to last year, again attributed to the tighter auditing process.

“The overwhelming majority of New Zealanders served by network supplies have long received water that is safe, and a new report shows that now thousands more have better drinking-water, following Ministry efforts to improve awareness and compliance among suppliers,” says Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay.

The Ministry has been running workshops, led by assessors, for water suppliers for the past two years to increase understanding about both the legislative requirements and the public health assessment underpinning the law – and the benefits are starting to show, says Dr McElnay.

It comes as the Annual Report on Drinking-Water Quality 2019-2020, published this week, provides the latest information on water quality and associated risks, highlighting the significance of this important area of human health.

The report covers water supplies that serve populations of more than 100 people, providing drinking-water to 4,077,0000 people across New Zealand, and shows in the past year:

Report highlights (of the report population):

  • 78.6 percent (3,254,000 people) received drinking-water that complied with all the Standards, up 2.4 percent;
  • 99.1 percent (4,104,000 people) received drinking-water that complied with the chemical standards, an increase of 1.6 percent;
  • 80 percent (3,313,000 people) received drinking-water that complied with protozoal standards – a process requiring stringent sampling and monitoring, though up 1.3 percent;
  • 96.7 percent (4,003,000 people) received drinking-water that complied with all the legislative requirements under the Act, down 0.5 percent; and
  • 95.2 percent (3,945,000 people) received drinking-water that complied with the bacteriological standards, a slight decrease of 0.1 percent.

The Act sets out the specific, legislative requirements key to protecting the safety of our drinking-water supplies, such as monitoring, record-keeping, and clear Water Safety Plans, while the Standards outline requirements for water quality.

Dr McElnay says she is pleased with current progress but says more needs to be done to ensure more New Zealanders are provided safe drinking-water.

This is being addressed with the establishment of Taumata Arowai, the new crown entity that will take over from the Ministry as the regulator when the Water Services Bill is enacted, expected in the second half of 2021, she says.

Meanwhile, drinking-water assessors, supported by the Ministry of Health, are working with non-compliant suppliers to address poor performance and ensure that they meet Health Act requirements as well as the Standards.

“Safe drinking-water is a Government priority,” says Dr McElnay.

“Work is well underway to continue to drive the improvements we need for drinking-water supply, both in the short and long term.”

The full report is available at: Annual Report on Drinking-water Quality 2019-2020.


The Annual Report on Drinking-Water Quality 2019-2020 looks at how New Zealand’s water supplies measure against the drinking-water legislation, in line with the Health Act 1956.

Standards reviewed

The Standards were reviewed in 2018 to strengthen some requirements and the Ministry issued updated guidance to all drinking-water assessors (DWAs) at the same time to ensure they assessed suppliers against the revised requirements. This led to a more stringent audit process by Drinking Water Assessors in the 2019-2020 reporting period.

Further information

Most water supplies are owned by territorial local authorities, like local or district councils. There are also a number of smaller water suppliers. The annual report does not cover those people who manage their own household water supply.

Local public health units (PHUs) are part of each district health board. PHUs work with water suppliers to ensure they maintain appropriate water quality and assess their compliance with the Health Act and Standards.