Drinking water: Self-supplying schools

Information, advice and resources to support self-supplying schools in supplying clean, safe water for staff and students.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Boards
  • Principals and Tumuaki
  • Administrators

There are about 450 self-supplying schools in New Zealand. Most of these schools (432) are also registered with the new water supply regulator, Taumata Arowai, as a water supplier. If your school is a registered drinking water supplier, you have new responsibilities under the Water Services Act 2021(external link). The act empowers Taumata Arowai to set new drinking water standards, rules and acceptable solutions, and establish a new water supplier register called Hinekōrako. Many of the new requirements come into force on 14 November 2022. 

The Ministry is working with the water services regulator, Taumata Arowai, on a plan to enable schools to meet these responsibilities over the next few years. Taumata Arowai took over from the Ministry of Health as the water services regulator in November 2021. Its goal is to lift the standard of drinking water across Aotearoa so that everyone has access to safe drinking water, including schools.

Legislation and standards

Water Services Act 2021

The Water Services Act 2021(external link) (the Act) provides a new regulatory approach for drinking water. 

As water suppliers you are required to ensure your drinking water is safe. Self-supplying schools must prepare for and respond to any incident that puts the safety or adequacy of the drinking water supply at risk. From 14 November 2022, Taumata Arowai is able to enforce non-compliance and has a range of measures at its disposal, including issues fines. 

Self-supplying schools and the Ministry hold joint responsibility for ensuring the safety of the drinking water supply.

Under the Act, there are some key changes to the management of drinking water that affect schools. These include:

  • The establishment of a new register of water suppliers called Hinekōrako
  • The setting of new Drinking Water Standards and Aesthetic Values which will apply from 14 November 2022. The Ministry will work with schools to ensure they meet the new standards as soon as possible.
  • The requirement for all registered water suppliers to comply with either the Quality Assurance Rules or adopt an Acceptable Solution. The Ministry is working with TA to agree a timeline for upgrading self-supplied school supplies to comply. 

See the Taumata Arowai website(external link) for more information on the new requirements.

The Ministry is now working on determining the specific approach to upgrading school water supply infrastructure as well as implementing monitoring and maintenance changes to comply with the new requirements.

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.

This will help you meet the requirements of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015(external link).

Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand

All self-supplying schools must ensure their drinking water supply meets the Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand (DWSNZ). These can be found on the Taumata Arowai website(external link). 

DWSNZ sets out Maximum Acceptable Values (MAVs) for a range of determinands which can affect the safety and quality of drinking water.

Some determinands affect the aesthetic quality of drinking water. Where these are present at elevated levels, schools can choose to treat for these and then test for them as part of routine monitoring. The Aesthetic Values can also be found on the Taumata Arowai website.

Schools that supply their own water must:

  • Maintain and service their water supply
  • Sample and test for E coli, total coliforms and any other determinand that exceeds 50% of the maximum acceptable value in the DWSNZ
  • Confirm their supply registration details on Taumata Arowai’s portal Hinekōrako and update the information annually

School water supply registration

Most schools which supply their own water were registered on the Ministry of Health Drinking Water Supply Register. The register is a public document providing key summary information about the water supply to anyone who is interested.

With the establishment of Taumata Arowai the register was transferred. The new register captures additional detail about each registered water supply and has been renamed to Hinekōrako. The new register provides an opportunity to confirm key information on each water supply and collect additional detail about the supply. The Water Services Act sets out requirements for registered supplies, including confirmation of their supply details, by 14 November 2022.

Taumata Arowai has contacted schools previously registered and asked them to confirm their details through Hinekōrako.

Schools that are registered have a code assigned to their supply (refer to laboratory test results) in the form of three letters and three numbers e.g. Omaio School - OMA006

What you are required to do

If you are a registered supply, you must complete the registration update process as soon as practicable. Questions about logging in and access should be directed to Taumata Arowai. Technical questions about your water supply can be directed to the Ministry’s three waters team at water.services@education.govt.nz

Once you have confirmed your registration you will also need to:

  • Advise Taumata Arowai if E. coli has been detected or about any other major disruption to the water supply by logging a notification through Hinekōrako
  • Complete an annual review of your registration details and correct anything that has changed

When and how often to sample and test your water

All self-supplying schools must complete water sampling and testing every month, including during the holidays. This is to ensure the water is safe to drink at all times. This change reflects the higher duty of care associated with the new Act and the poor condition of many existing water supply systems. This may require you to arrange for someone to sample the supply during staff absences.

Sampling is to be completed in the first two weeks of the month if at all possible to ensure that testing, recording of results and follow-up on any water quality issues can be completed by the end of the month.

How to sample your water

Water must be sampled from a tap in the water supply network used by students and/or staff for drinking and preferably the furthest away from the treatment plant. The tap should be run for five minutes to flush the line and the sample bottle rinsed three times before taking the sample for testing. Fill the bottle, leaving a small air gap at the top, before putting on the cap. Make sure you keep the sample cool before placing into the chilly bin or insulated travel pack for transporting.

Sampling must be completed on a day and time to coordinate with transport arrangements so that the sample reaches the testing laboratory within 24 hours.

If E. coli bacteria are detected you will need to immediately restrict access to water, arrange an alternative safe supply, follow-up on and eliminate the possible cause of contamination and do three consecutive re-tests to confirm that the water is safe to drink again.

Testing by an accredited laboratory

All samples must be tested by an accredited laboratory. You can identify and confirm if a laboratory is accredited by checking on the Taumata Arowai website(external link). Some laboratories which are not accredited may send samples on to an accredited laboratory for testing. If the laboratory which tests your sample is not accredited, you must contract with one that is.

Your laboratory should supply you with sample bottles and courier packs in advance of the monthly sampling round. If bacteria are detected, you will need to arrange additional sample bottles for the three re-tests to be taken after contamination has been addressed.

Recording test results

The outcome of E. coli and coliform testing must be recorded in the Argest secure online portal as soon as the results are received. The results for all testing, including other determinands, should be saved in the school file. If your school is required to test its water supply, but you haven't yet recorded the results online, contact Argest for a password.

Email: TeamMOE@argest.com

Phone: 0800 274 378

What to do if you have a problem with your water

If you think your water supply is unsafe (e.g. contaminated by chemical or biological contaminants) you must take immediate action to protect the health of those who drink it, including notifying people who may be affected.

If there is an imminent risk of serious illness or death arising from your drinking water supply and the situation can’t be immediately controlled, contact Taumata Arowai by calling 04 889 8350. This number is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you detect bacteria in your supply because of routine monitoring, you should take the following actions.

What to do if your supply is contaminated by E. coli

If E. coli is detected, this means there are likely to be bacteria in your drinking water which could make students and staff sick. You must take immediate steps to address the issue and minimise the health risk. If you have a Water Safety Plan, refer to this for the critical actions. As a minimum you are required to:

  • Close off taps and drinking fountains, and post notices which clearly state that the water is ‘unsafe to drink unless boiled’. 
  • Make alternative arrangements to supply drinking water such as:
    • providing bottled water or,
    • sourcing safe water using a registered water carrier service (i.e. tanker operator) accessing water that complies with the drinking water standards. 
  • If your supply is registered, notify Taumata Arowai by completing a notification through Hinekōrako. You will need to record what you plan to do to resolve the issue. 
  • Initiate an investigation to identify the possible cause of contamination. This is most likely to be due to organic, animal or soil contamination. We recommend you work through the following checklist of maintenance tasks: 
    • Check and clean roofs and gutters where there are obvious organic material and/or animal or bird faeces 
    • Check for contamination at bore heads including ensuring stock are excluded  
    • Flush water storage tanks if these have not been cleaned for several years 
    • Ensure filters and UV disinfection units have been recently serviced including replacing cartridges and UV lamps etc. 
    • Check for leaks in the network and cracks in water storage tanks 
    • Add suitable disinfectant (not household bleach) to the supply, to any stored water, and flush the disinfected water through the school network. 

Follow-up sampling

Once you have undertaken cleaning and critical maintenance and believe you have resolved the issue, you will need to re-test the water three times. The supply can only be deemed safe to drink once three sequential samples taken at least one day apart have tested free of E. coli.

Please enter your water retest results on the Argest portal, as soon as you receive them, to confirm your school’s water supply is safe to drink and ensure there is an audit trail of your school’s test results.

What to do if your supply is contaminated by coliforms

The presence of coliform bacteria indicates the potential for human disease-causing bacteria to be present, although E. coli bacteria have not been identified. The larger the number of bacteria the more significant the level of contamination.

Coliform bacteria will most likely be due to organic, animal or soil contamination of your water supply. Although you do not need to stop drinking the water, you should investigate possible causes of contamination and work through the following checklist of maintenance tasks: 

  • Check and clean roofs and gutters where there are obvious organic material and/or animal or bird faeces present
  • Check for contamination at bore heads, including ensuring stock are excluded 
  • Flush water storage tanks where these have not been cleaned for several years
  • Ensure filters and UV disinfection units have been recently serviced including replacement of cartridges and UV lamps if required etc.
  • Check for leaks in the network and cracks in water storage tanks. 

Once you have completed your investigation and completed necessary cleaning, flushing, maintenance or repairs, you should continue to monitor coliforms to confirm you have resolved the issue or as an early warning of future contamination issues.  

How to keep your water supply safe

Maintain your water supply collection, treatment and distribution system

As with buildings, all parts of the water supply system need to be maintained. The key maintenance tasks will be included in your Water Safety Plan if you have one and should include:

  • Ensuring water sources are protected from contamination
  • Replacing and/or cleaning filters at the frequency recommended by the manufacturer and before a problem with water quality is identified by testing or monitoring
  • Calibrating and servicing UV disinfection equipment at the frequency recommended by the manufacturer and before a problem with water quality is identified by testing or monitoring
  • Ensuring any leaks to the pipes and/or taps are repaired to prevent contaminants getting into the water

Keep your roof water safe

Collecting water from a roof could result in contaminants (for example, from bird and animal faeces and organic matter), 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 by:

  • cutting back trees
  • keeping the roof and guttering clean
  • using lead-free materials
  • repairing any damage
  • cleaning and flushing water storage tanks at least every two years. 

Keep your groundwater free from contamination

Groundwater can be contaminated by contact with contaminated soil, surface water and/or shallow groundwater. To mitigate these risks, make sure your bore meets the following requirements:

  • At least 50 metres away from any wastewater treatment, collection or discharge system e.g. septic tanks and discharge fields
  • Sealed for the first few meters below ground with a sealing clay or other impervious material
  • Sealed at the surface with a concrete apron which sheds rainwater
  • Al penetrations of the bore by pipes or cables are closed
  • Stock are excluded from approaching closer than 10 metres to the bore

Reduce levels of contaminants in your surface water

Surface water will usually be contaminated with a range of bacteria and soil, as well as inorganic and organic contaminants. The type and number will vary depending on the land management activities occurring in the catchment. To reduce the levels of these contaminants we recommend you:

  • Exclude high-risk activities from the catchment if possible e.g. intensive stock grazing, chemical spraying, cultivation and cropping, application of poison for pest management etc.
  • Use an infiltration system in the bed or bank of the stream where possible to filter out gross contaminants
  • Provide a settling basin or tank downstream of the surface water intake to settle out sediment and other large contaminants
  • Avoid taking water during periods when the source is very dirty by providing extended untreated water storage

Keep water safe after treatment

Contamination of the treated water in the distribution network can occur in several ways including:

  • Breaks or leaks in the network
  • Corrosion of metal pipes and fittings leaching metals which build up when water sits in taps and pipes
  • Backflow of contaminated water into the network due to differential pressures

To mitigate these risks, you should:

  • Identify and repair leaks promptly
  • Run all drinking taps briefly before the start of the school day and particularly after long holiday absences
  • Ensure backflow protection is installed and tested at least annually for any high, or medium-risk activities on-site e.g. swimming pools, dental clinics, chemical handling and storage areas, boilers, external hoses or irrigation systems as well as stock watering connections

Train staff 

You should not need to employ anyone to operate and manage your water supply system, however you will need a qualified person to maintain parts of the system e.g. UV and cartridge systems.

Staff can be trained in many aspects of water supply systems, including:

  • identifying and undertaking required maintenance
  • taking water samples for laboratory analysis
  • making sure your water meets the Drinking Water Standards.

Your Taumata Arowai regional office(external link) can help.


Taumata Arowai drinking-water resources(external link)

Getting advice

Always get independent advice before maintaining or upgrading your equipment, or employing consultants. Contact your property advisor if you need help.

Amount of drinking water to provide

Amount of drinking water to provide

For normal daily use, you must be able to provide at least 23 litres of water per person per day that the school is expected to be occupied.

The Ministry recommends you store enough treated drinking water for three days, both to minimise disruption if there’s a treatment plant outage and to provide enough during an emergency. For self-supplied schools this can be achieved by having a treated water storage tank. For further guidance on good practice for water storage and on the amount of water you should store, refer to the Get Thru website.

Storing water(external link)

Budgeting for your water supply

Budgeting for your water supply

Include water management in your 10 Year Property Plan.

Make sure you budget for maintenance, renewal and upgrading of water infrastructure such as water treatment plants, storage tanks, backflow preventers, taps and pipes.

If your water supply system breaks down such that you cannot supply safe drinking water, it becomes a priority 1 urgent, health and safety project, and should be funded through your 5 Year Agreement.

Conserve water

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 repair them straight away.
  • Install low-flow taps and adjustable spray nozzles.
  • Install dual-flush toilets and urinals that run on timers or sensors.
  • Collect rainwater and reuse this 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

Drinking fountains

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

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback