Three Waters Reform

In July 2020, the Government launched the Three Waters Reform Programme – a 3-year programme to reform local government three waters service delivery arrangements. You can read more about the programme on the Department of Internal Affairs website:

Three Waters Reform Programme (Department of Internal Affairs website)

Government’s proposed reforms for Northland

Government is proposing that management of the three waters is transferred out of local government hands and into new entities. The northern most of these entities would cover Auckland, Whangārei, Kaipara and the Far North.

Initially councils were entitled to opt in or out of the reforms and Whangarei District Council announced that while we support reform where necessary, we do not think an entity to cover Auckland, Whangārei, Kaipara and the Far North is the right way to go, so we were opting out. 

In October 2021, Government announced that Councils could no longer “opt out” of the reforms.

In November 2021, we joined with Timaru District Council and Waimakariri District Council to file a High Court application seeking clarification of what ownership means in relation to their ratepayer-funded water assets. Between them, these three councils have $1.76 billion in ratepayer funded water infrastructure.

In December 2021, our Council, Kaipara and the Far North District Council joined Communities 4 Local Democracy - He hapori mō te Manapori, a group of 23 councils who have banded together to express serious concerns about the Government’s Three Waters reforms.

The group’s numbers are growing as local councils consider the implications of the proposed legislation – in particular losing control of approximately $60 billion of community owned assets across the whole country.

Castalia report

As part of our decision-making process, Council commissioned a report from global economic consultants Castalia on the Three Waters Reform proposals. The final report was received in late August 2021.

The findings in the report have confirmed Council's decision to provisionally opt out of the reforms at this point.

Castalia Report: Advice on Water Reform Opt-Out(PDF, 818KB)

What are the three waters?

The three waters are the three kinds of water systems Council manages:

  • Drinking water
  • Wastewater
  • Stormwater

These systems include dams, reservoirs, bores, intakes from rivers, pipes, pumping stations, treatment plants, telemetry systems, laboratories, drainage. They also involve a network of contractors and staff to run, maintain, expand and develop them to meet the communities' changing needs.

The systems were funded by rates and sometimes some central government funding. Managing them is funded through rates, and occasionally some central government grants.

Whangārei's water situation

Our three waters systems are among the most successful in the country. Whangārei District’s public three waters system has a book value of $600m and replacement value of $1.2b.

Drinking water

Our drinking water situation has been managed carefully over the years to cover improvements to our system. As a result we had no water restrictions in 2019/2020 summer, and we were able to assist other northern councils’ water supplies during the drought.

In 2021, we opened our new $30m water treatment plant in Whau Valley, significantly increasing the quantity of water we can supply every day to 22,000 cubic metres.

Whau Valley Water Treatment Plant 

We also increased the size of pipes from the Hātea River, to help reserve dam water for use during drier times. Across the District, Council supplies water to thousands of homes and businesses and the network is expanding every year.


Since 2009, around $60m has been invested in improved wastewater management, and we no longer have storm-related spills from our sewage system into our harbour. Investment has included new pumping stations and containment systems at Okara, Whareora and Tarewa. These stations can store and treat major storm water influxes to the sewer system before discharging to the main water treatment plant at Kioreroa Road.

Wastewater Treatment Plant

The Kioreroa plant has been expanded and upgraded to ensure that all discharges from it into its wetlands have been treated.

We have also installed and managed smaller schemes around the District and we have a steady maintenance and expansion programme.


Our district has stormwater systems which have developed with the built environment over generations. Recently we have started to work towards integrating all the information held that relates to stormwater management, collating this by catchments, and we have been getting ready to begin a major, decades-long integrated stormwater management system.

When complete, the aim would be for this system to be of an equal standard to our freshwater and wastewater systems.