The Minister for the Environment proposes to introduce a national environmental standard (NES) for sources of human drinking-water. This document presents an analysis of the proposed standard, as required by section 32 of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

1.1 Overview

1.1.1 National environmental standards

The RMA enables the Minister for the Environment to prepare national environmental standards. These standards have the force of regulation and are binding on local authorities.

A NES can:

  • prohibit an activity

  • allow an activity subject to compliance with plan rules

  • restrict the making of rules and granting of resource consents

  • require certification of compliance with the regulations

  • specify the effect of the regulations on existing rules, and require local authorities to review existing resource consents within particular timeframes.

Standards can be established for a range of matters, such as air quality, noise, or specifying monitoring requirements. Full details of matters that a NES can regulate are provided in Appendix 8.

The first national environment standards in New Zealand were the suite of air quality standards, which were introduced in 2004.

1.1.2 A proposed NES for sources of human drinking-water

The proposed NES is intended to provide certainty in decision-making and a bottom line for protecting drinking-water sources throughout New Zealand. The proposed NES applies to activities that can affect the quality of sources of human drinking-water. It is intended to ensure that activities in drinking-water catchments do not result in water becoming polluted to the extent that it will be unsafe to drink following the existing treatment process. It provides a clear signal to councils that they need to consider the effects on human drinking-water quality in their statutory decision-making processes.

There are three components to the proposed standard. These apply to:

  • decisions on regional resource consents that could affect the quality of community drinking-water sources

  • permitted activity rules in regional plans

  • conditions on resource consents for activities that have the potential to affect downstream water supplies.

This standard will complement Ministry of Health standards and proposed legislation for improving drinking-water supply and delivery, and ensure a comprehensive approach to managing drinking-water from source to tap.

1.1.3 Developing the NES

In late September 2005 the Ministry for the Environment notified the NES for human drinking-water sources. Details of the original proposal were described in a discussion document which was distributed during the submission period, Proposed National Environmental Standard for Human Drinking-water Sources (Ministry for the Environment, 2005).

Four workshops on the proposed drinking-water source NES were held in early October 2005 in Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch and Hamilton. In addition, a number of separate meetings were held with local government, drinking-water assessors and other stakeholder groups. The Ministry for the Environment’s Road Show travelled throughout New Zealand, holding over 30 meetings in 16 regions and talking to over 2700 people. The proposed NES was one of the key topics discussed at the Road Show meetings. During the submission period a combination of technical workshops and the Talk Environment Road Show delivered this proposal to over 3100 people.

During the submission period, which closed on 28 November 2005, 82 submissions were received. An overview of these submissions is contained in the report Proposed National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking-water: Report on Submissions (Ministry for the Environment, 2006).

1.2 The section 32 evaluation and report

Section 32 of the RMA requires the Minister for the Environment to evaluate the objectives and policies of any proposed national environmental standards, and to prepare a report summarising the evaluation. The requirements contained within section 32 of the RMA are:

(3) An evaluation must examine:

(a) the extent to which each objective is the most appropriate way to achieve the purpose of this Act; and

(b) whether, having regard to their efficiency and effectiveness, the policies, rules, or other methods are the most appropriate for achieving the objectives.


(4) For the purposes of this examination, an evaluation must take into account:

(a) the benefits and costs of policies, rules, or other methods; and

(b) the risk of acting or not acting if there is uncertain or insufficient information about the subject matter of the policies, rules, or other methods.

There are two main aspects to the test of appropriateness:

  • weighing up alternative objectives to determine which one will provide environmental outcomes that will best meet the purpose of the Act

  • being satisfied that the objective chosen can best be achieved through the Act, rather than through some other mechanism.

Getting a measure of effectiveness involves assessing how well something might work.

Determining the relative efficiency of various alternatives is more difficult, and involves an examination of costs and benefits. A measure of efficiency is the extent to which the proposed method achieves the purpose of the Act, compared to the magnitude of what is foregone as a result of using this method. Assessing this involves calculating and comparing the net environmental benefits against the net costs (environmental, social and economic). The more the net benefits exceed the net costs, the more efficient the option is (Ministry for the Environment, 2000).

In evaluating the efficiency of the proposed NES, some assumptions have had to be made about how the policies might be put into practice by local government.