Drinking water: Self-supplying schools

Clean, safe water must be provided at schools, especially for drinking. Poor-quality water can cause illness, and children are at the highest risk.

There are around 500 self-supplying schools in New Zealand.

Legislation and standards

Health and Safety at Work Act

Providing clean water at your school is part of your overall health and safety responsibilities.

We recommend you review your school’s health and safety systems against the 11 key components of an effective health and safety system, see:

This will help you meet the requirements of the:

Drinking-water Standards

We recommend self-supplying schools comply with Section 10 of the Drinking-water Standards.

You can download the standard from the Ministry of Health website:

Under Section 10, you must:

  • Have a Water Safety Plan, see: Small Drinking-water Supplies (external link)  (Ministry of Health website)
  • Have appropriate treatment based on the risk to the supply
  • Monitor the water quality with regular testing (either monthly if you have an older treatment system or every three months if you have a newer treatment system)
  • When your water supply or water quality is compromised, contact:

How to keep the water supply safe 

You must register with ESR

Self-supplying schools must be on the Drinking-water Register for New Zealand.

Being registered means your school has a unique zone code, which you use on all sample bottles and documentation.

Your Public Health Unit can advise you on how to register and also check your details are correct.

View the register:

Keep roof water safe

Collecting water from a roof could result in contaminants (for example, from birds and animals) and corrosion materials (including lead from flaking paint or old nail heads) in your water supply. 

To mitigate these risks make sure your roof is maintained to a good standard, including:

  • Cutting back trees from your roof
  • Making sure your roof and guttering is clean
  • Using lead-free materials
  • Keeping your roof in good repair. 

Run drinking taps before school starts

Some heavy metals get into water through metal pipes corroding. It builds up when water sits in the pipes overnight.

Make sure all drinking taps are run briefly before the start of school. This is usually done by your caretaker. 

Test water

Once a year, all state schools are asked by Argest (the Ministry's agent) where they obtain their water from (town supply, self supply, or other supply).

Depending on your supply, you may have to have your water tested.

If your school is required to have its water supply tested, you must record the results with Argest's secure online service.

If your school is required to test its water supply, but you haven't yet recorded the results online, please contact Argest for a password.

Train staff 

You shouldn’t need to employ anyone to manage your water treatment.

Staff can be trained in all aspects of water treatment, including:

Treat water

To find out about the different ways to make water safe, see:

You may need to install backflow preventers (see: Backflow prevention).

Support from the Ministry of Health

Ministry of Health website

The Ministry of Health website includes:

Public health units

You can talk to your public health unit about:

  • Technical advice
  • Drinking-water safety
  • Water safety planning
  • Getting the most out of your treatment system
  • Schemes or suppliers that may help you to manage your water
  • Options for upgrading your treatment system.

Always get independent advice before maintaining or upgrading your equipment, or employing consultants. 

Amount of drinking water to provide

All schools must consider their drinking water storage requirements. You should have at least a 20 day supply in reserve available for emergency drinking water at the daily rate of 4 litres per person per day. 

For normal daily use you must be able to provide not less than 23 litres per person per day. 

If you use water containers to store water, follow good practice guidance on:

Budgeting for your water supply 

Include water management in your 10 Year Property Plan.

Make sure you budget for water infrastructure like backflow preventers, taps and pipes.

Compromised water and system breakdowns

If water becomes unsafe to drink, you must stop people drinking it. For example, put up notices saying 'unfit for drinking'.

In the first instance, refer to your Water Safety Plan where you should have recorded all identifiable risks and corrective actions. 

Actions you may need to undertake include:

  • Disinfect the water supply
  • Disconnect the water system
  • Clean the water system
  • Use alternative sources of water until you water testing indicates that your water is safe to consume again. 

You must notify:

The Public Health Unit can advise on interim measures to restore the potable water to meet the Standards. 

If your entire water supply system breaks down, it becomes a priority 1 urgent, health and safety project, which can be paid for through your 5 Year Agreement Funding.

Conserve water

Make sure water isn’t being wasted at your school. 

  • install water meters so you can set a target to reduce water use        
  • check for leaks and repairing them straight away
  • install low-flow taps and adjustable spray nozzles
  • have dual-flush toilets and urinals that run on timers or sensors
  • collect rainwater and reusing water for the school gardens
  • educate staff and students on ways to save water
  • sweep outside areas rather than hosing them
  • water plants later in the day to reduce water loss.

Drinking fountains 

You must provide at least one bubble fountain or similar for every 60 students in your school. 

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