Complacency, inept officials – a Government inquiry paints a frightening picture of the state of New Zealand’s drinking water, with at least 750,000 of us drinking from supplies that are “not demonstrably safe” – a figure described as likely to be a “significant underestimate”.
The inquiry was sparked by the 2016 Havelock North gastro outbreak, which has now been linked to four deaths, and calls for a major overhaul of water supplies, including mandatory treatment.
The Government has now written urgently to all mayors and district health boards asking to check the water they are supplying meets current standards after the inquiry revealed 20 per cent of water supplies were not up to standard.
Chemically treating Christchurch’s water to make it extra safe for drinking would cost ratepayers more than $100 million, city council officials believe.
A damning Government report in the wake of last year’s Havelock North disease outbreak condemned water regulation across New Zealand and called for the universal treatment of drinking water.
But medical experts believe Christchurch, which has long-resisted suggestions its drinking water should be treated, is a “special case” because its water quality is so good.
Council bosses said introducing chlorination would be a “major undertaking” and would cost millions to install treatment systems in the 50 or so boreholes across the city.
David Adamson, council city services manager, said: “To treat against things like protozoa we would need something like ultraviolet treatment or fine filtration, and to treat against ongoing E coli would need some residual treatment like chlorination.
Residents in some parts of North Canterbury have had issues with discoloured and “crunchy” water.
“You’re looking at a bill of probably $100 million plus, and my engineers have estimated an operating cost of possibly $5m a year to run it.”
Adamson welcomed the report for stimulating “interesting conversation” but said the council had “very good measures” in place over risk, including secure deep boreheads and a stringent water quality monitoring regime, and it should be up to the community to decide whether those measures were sufficient.
“I think Christchurch City Council has got some very good practices, both in the construction and depth of their wells and in their monitoring regimes that produce barriers to minimise that risk.”
Christchurch’s pure drinking water could be contaminated due to farming