$100m bill for safe wa­ter

The Press - - Front Page - DO­MINIC HAR­RIS

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.

‘‘You’re look­ing at a bill of prob­a­bly

$100m 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 risk.’’

Rec­om­men­da­tions such as re­ex­am­in­ing leg­is­la­tion were ‘‘long over­due’’, he con­ceded.

But he called for con­sid­er­a­tion to be given to what safety pre­cau­tions in­di­vid­ual wa­ter sup­pli­ers had in place be­fore any manda­tory treat­ment was im­posed. ‘‘I be­lieve that we are do­ing a very, very good job where we are.’’

Most of Christchurch’s drink­ing wa­ter is drawn from deep aquifers be­neath the city, fed pri­mar­ily by the Waimakariri River.

The un­treated wa­ter is of an ex­cep­tion­ally high qual­ity and has long been a source of pride for the city.

Can­ter­bury med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health Dr Alis­tair Humphrey ac­cepted that ‘‘in prin­ci­ple’’ chlo­ri­na­tion would im­prove safety – but warned it could lead to com­pla­cency around pro­tect­ing sources of drink­ing wa­ter.

But the ‘‘mul­ti­ple bar­ri­ers’’ the city coun­cil al­ready had in place and its in­vest­ment to pro­tect the sup­ply net­work were as good as chlo­ri­na­tion and should al­low it to be ex­empt from treat­ment, he said.

‘‘I think the case that Christchurch City Coun­cil have made for not chlo­ri­nat­ing is a rare but sig­nif­i­cant ex­cep­tion from the gen­eral rule that chlo­ri­nat­ing is what you need to do to keep your drink­ing wa­ter safe.’’

The Govern­ment’s in­quiry un­cov­ered a deeply trou­bling pic­ture of New Zealand’s drink­ing wa­ter, with at least 750,000 peo­ple us­ing sup­plies that were ‘‘not demon­stra­bly safe’’.

May­ors and district health boards have been asked to check wa­ter meets cur­rent stan­dards af­ter the re­port found qual­ity in 20 per cent of sup­plies was in­ad­e­quate. As well as urg­ing uni­ver­sal treat­ment, the re­port rec­om­mended a new in­de­pen­dent drink­ing wa­ter reg­u­la­tor, tight­en­ing of leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tion and hav­ing larger wa­ter sup­pli­ers to im­prove ac­count­abil­ity.

The in­quiry was trig­gered by a bac­te­rial con­tam­i­na­tion in Have­lock North last year that left three peo­ple dead and thou­sands ill. Min­is­ter for Health David Clark is ex­pected to up­date the Cabi­net be­fore Christ­mas of any nec­es­sary ur­gent ac­tion.

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