Water quality needs work before it’s safe to drink
‘‘Things aren’t as good as they should be. ’’ Peter Callander
Almost one third of Manawatu¯ ’s drinking water supply needs immediate work to fix potential risks to public health, an independent report has found.
Of 55 water supply sites, 18 were ranked as ‘‘being highest priority’’. This means action is required as soon as possible because of risks to public health, said Peter Callander, technical water director with engineering consultancy Pattle Delamore.
‘‘This is not to say these are absolutely at risk of contamination, but in terms of criteria being applied through the [national] Drinking Water Standards these supplies need to improve... things aren’t as good as they should be,’’ he told a Horizons Regional Council meeting on Tuesday.
The investigation was started by Horizons in the wake of last year’s Havelock North drinking water contamination, which made 5500 people sick after drinking water contaminated by sheep faeces.
The poisoning led to 45 people being hospitalised, and was linked to the deaths of three people.
Callander said although the errors made by the Hawke’s Bay councils responsible for water supply were ‘‘collectively ... fairly minor’’, the incident highlighted how several small gaps in required safeguards could leave the water supply vulnerable.
Agencies with responsibility for different points in the water supply process must work together, monitor thoroughly and share information proactively to ensure the water was kept safe.
Many of the ‘‘gaps’’ in the Havelock North case exist widely throughout the country, he said, but all organisations and staff who ensure water safety must take ‘‘personal responsibility’’.
‘‘I don’t think it is an understatement to say drinking water supply has potentially the most serious of consequences of any issue.
‘‘It takes a few days to realise anything is happening. In that case there was about five days where the contaminated water was being pumped through the system before it was noticed. It can be hugely significant.’’
The Manawatu¯ report used the latest data, up to mid-2016, and some changes had been made since then, Callander said.
‘‘Some detections [of contaminants] occurred. They are isolated and low, but the fact that some bugs are getting through is a concern.’’
At many of the 18 ‘priority 1’ sites, monitoring was not carried out to national standards required. ‘‘So you can’t be sure,’’ he said. When requested Horizons did not immediately release the location of these sites or the number of sites ranked as priority two - ‘‘requiring heightened vigilance’’ or priority three - ‘‘managed well’’.
A database to share water monitoring information has begun, with Horizons, MidCentral Health Board and district councils in the region taking part.
Callander said more work was needed to make the database user friendly, including making it accessible online, allowing different types of information to be compared, and providing visual representations.
Horizons councillors voted to receive the report, and councillor Nicola Patrick thanked Callander for providing the ‘important’ report.