Govt to consider merging inadequate drinking water suppliers

Thursday, 07 Dec, 2017

The inquiry panel chaired by retired appeal court judge Lyn Stevens found in their follow-up report that the contamination of Havelock North's water supply wasn't confined to that region, with water suppliers across the country sharing those problems and many not meeting minimum compliance levels.

The report on the second stage of the inquiry into the gastro outbreak in Havelock North a year ago, when more than a third of the town's 14,000 people become sick from contaminated drinking water, was released yesterday.

Minister for Economic Development David Parker has accused the previous government of "failing New zealanders" after a report published today outlined the fact that 20 per cent of Kiwis drinking water is not treated putting them at risk.

It recommends changes to the classification system for bores in order to avoid what it sees as the misunderstanding that bore water drawn from a "secure" aquifer is always safe to drink.

"I think it's clear this report will be concerning to a lot of new Zealanders, it shows the problems we had in Havelock North a lot more widespread than previously thought", he said.

As much as 9000 kilometres of water pipes from as far back as the 1950s needed replacing around the country, at a cost of $2.2b, according to the report.

It urgently encourages the universal treatment of water.

Parker said mandatory treatment was not as controversial as it used to be, with a number of cities with large populations making the change in the past year.

"[It] highlights the quality of drinking water in New Zealand is often inadequate, and that regulation and enforcement have been poor", he said. In particular, we identified two areas of focus regarding drinking water, including the security of drinking water supply sources.

Local Government New Zealand president and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull was quick to point out the lack of information about how the report's recommendations around improved infrastructure would be funded.

Non-profit industry group Water New Zealand backed the inquiry's findings, with chief executive John Pfahlert saying major reforms were needed to improve the country's drinking water supply.

Previous year more than 5000 people became sick from Havelock North's drinking water and the report warned almost 800,000 people were being supplied water that was "not demonstrably safe".

Parker said the Government had not yet decided which of the recommendations it supported and which, if any, it opposed.

Health Minister David Clark is seeking urgent advice to put to Cabinet before Christmas, while Parker, who is also Environment Minister, is seeking advice on the recommendations and regulations.