Many councils would struggle to pay for safer drinking water if they were forced to do more to stop thousands of people getting sick each year.
An official report into the Havelock North gastro outbreak warns one in five people are at risk and recommends upgrading infrastructure, mandatory water treatment, and establishing an independent regulator.
Last year more than 5000 people became sick from Havelock North's drinking water and the report warned nearly 800,000 people were being supplied water that was "not demonstrably safe".
Local Government New Zealand said the report failed to identify who would pay for many of the report's 51 recommendations.
"It's all very fine saying these standards have to be met, but if you don't address how it's going to be paid for, and who's going to pay for it, then you haven't really tackled the issue", said president Dave Cull.
"Councils don't have a big piggy bank ready to pay things. It's the communities that have to pay, and that's what this report hasn't addressed."
Mr Cull said some communities, like Christchurch, were proud of having untreated water, and could be reluctant to fork out money - especially if the risk of getting sick was low.
Attorney-General David Parker said some of the larger councils would be able to cope with costs, but he acknowledged that would not be the case across the board.
"Some of the smaller populations, if they're left alone, won't be able to afford to do it."
However the government hadn't yet decided if it would help.
"We want to do this in a way that is most cost effective, and one of the inquiry recommendations in that regard is to have wider sharing of services".
The report left some of its most scathing criticisms for the Ministry of Health which it said had an enormous vacuum of leadership, did not properly manage water suppliers, and failed to prosecute shocking levels of non-compliance.
Health Minister David Clark said he was aware of the problems which was why he had appointed a ministerial advisory group to deal directly with him.
A document will be delivered to Cabinet next week, which Mr Clark said would list what needed to be urgently addressed.