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For many years LGNZ has led policy development in the water space, principally related to three waters, under the project heading Water 2050. This focus has by necessity expanded in 2019 to include freshwater, and resource management in response to the Government’s ambitious environmental and planning reform process. The name of the flagship project is changing to reflect this. The government’s proposed reforms will significantly change how territorial and regional councils currently operate, and may impose significant costs on communities. Given that much of this policy is still in development, National Council has directed LGNZ to ensure that any reforms enacted enable operational efficiency and are as practicable as possible, and adopt measures that impose the least cost on communities in delivering on the aim to improve freshwater quality in New Zealand.

Three waters

Over the next two years, responsibility for drinking water regulation will be transferred from the Ministry of Health to Taumate Arowai, the new drinking water regulator. The powers and responsibilities of this regulator are still in development. How this regulator is stood up, and to what degree its mandate reflects operational realities on the ground will have implications for local government, primarily territorial authorities.

This project seeks to:

  • Engage in central government’s policy development process as the three waters regulation passes through Parliament to ensure its regulatory powers and responsibilities are appropriate, imposes the least cost on communities in achieving the aim of providing safe drinking water, and maintains appropriate boundaries between public and private water networks. It seeks to co-develop an implementation strategy and plan to ensure the regulator, councils, and private water network operators have access to the skills they need to meet their statutory obligations.


Through the Regional sector, LGNZ has invested considerable resources into the Government’s Essential Freshwater Programme, a reform initiative that has sought to halt and reverse the decline of freshwater quality in New Zealand. The sector strongly supports this aim, but has practical concerns about the Government’s one-size-fits-all approach, which seeks to impose national standards across a number of freshwater attributes.

This project seeks to:

  • Inform and advocate for the adoption of a phased implementation of the proposed freshwater standards to better reflect the New Zealand’s capacity and capability constraints, affordability issues, and the limitations of the current planning system. Where LGNZ feels the evidence and analysis that supports the Essential Freshwater Package is underdone, this project will seek to update and inform policymakers.

Resource Management

Central government has embarked on an ambitious project to reform the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). LGNZ supports reform of New Zealand’s planning system. Along with the Local Government Act 2002 and the Land Transport Management Act 2003, the RMA is one of the core pieces of legislation that informs how the local government sector operates. As such LGNZ and its members have a strong interest in ensuring that the reform process is successful.

This project seeks to:

  • Engage in the resource management reform process to ensure that the voice of communities continues to be central in how New Zealand’s resources are used. Furthermore, a key focus will be to ensure that changes to the legislation work for urban, provincial and rural New Zealand remain enabling. LGNZ will seek to make expert groups of local government practitioners available to central government, and commission additional advice and analysis as needed to inform the evidence base used to develop policy recommendations.


Water 2050 project

Water quality is, and will continue to be, one of the defining political issues for governments and councils over the foreseeable future, with political parties taking firm positions on the need to improve quality. Recently the Government has set a national water quality target of 90 per cent swimmability by 2040, which will impact directly on local government and its communities. Improving water quality represents major challenges for both regional and territorial councils, yet New Zealand lacks an overall integrated framework for the future management and allocation of its water resources.

The Government policy and regulatory decisions so far represent a useful start, however, major issues involve the costs and trade-offs involved in increasing water standards and the resulting impact on local communities, families and business, as well as our wastewater and stormwater systems. 

To address this gap LGNZ has undertaken the Water 2050 project to create a comprehensive framework that brings freshwater issues and water infrastructure into a coherent policy that integrates freshwater quality and quantity, standards, rights and allocation, land use, three waters infrastructure, cost and affordability, and funding while recognising that the allocation of iwi rights and interests in freshwater is a live issue for the Crown.