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Stage 2 of Havelock North drinking water inquiry and impact on the Coromandel

07 December 2017

The release of Stage 2 of an inquiry into Havelock North's drinking water contamination has ramifications for Councils like ours to spend more on compliance, monitoring and infrastructure, which will be a cost to our ratepayers.

The release of Stage 2 of an inquiry into Havelock North's drinking water contamination has been released and will continue to have ramifications for Council like ours to spend more on compliance, monitoring and infrastructure, which will be a cost to our ratepayers.

The Government inquiry was sparked by the 2016 Havelock North gastro outbreak, which has been linked to four deaths, and calls for a major overhaul of water supplies, including mandatory treatment.

"The Government is now asking Councils like ours to check the water we're supplying to our residents, meets the 2005 (2008) Drinking Water Standards," says our Mayor Sandra Goudie.

"The fact is some of our treatment plants and distribution zones didn't reach overall compliance for a variety of different reasons. If we test every minute but we miss a minute then we're said to be non-compliant. And that is in spite of what the water quality is," says Mayor Sandra.

"We're already being proactive about what we need to do as a Council towards improvements, as well as budgeting in our upcoming 2018-2028 Long Term Plan towards increased monitoring and compliance, but if Government are going to continue to alter the standards to such a level that they're becoming ridiculous to meet and putting an unnecessary burden on costs for local authorities, then they need to come to the party," she says.

Our Council manages nine urban and two rural (Thames Valley/Matatoki) water supply schemes. In the latest "NZ Drinking Water Standards Compliance Report 2016-17," it was found that six of those 11 supplies met overall compliance for part 4 (bacteria) monitoring, while none of the supplies met overall compliance for part 5 (protozoal) monitoring of the Drinking Water Standards.

"We need to provide some context around these findings," says Bruce Hinson our Infrastructure Manager.

"In many cases, failures were down to just one small measurement not being taken or met. Our records show that we have had zero instances of sickness reported to the Ministry of Health about our drinking water," says Mr Hinson. "Works in the past year towards improvements to meet the Drinking Water Standards have been underway," says Mr Hinson. "And between $15M and $30M is proposed in our next Long Term Plan 2018-2028, to pay for infrastructure, monitoring and data collection to improve our compliance."

Public feedback on this proposed spend will be part of the Long Term Plan consultation planned for March 2018.

Water improvement works already underway.

  1. Chlorination to both the Hahei and Pauanui supplies. These supplies are currently the only urban water schemes left in Thames-Coromandel District that do not have chlorine added to them. While the current UV disinfection at the plants is effective in killing micro-organisms that can cause illness, there is no guarantee that it remains effective throughout the reticulation. Once water passes through the UV disinfection unit it no longer has any residual protection and can become contaminated. Chlorine stays in the water throughout its journey to the tap killing any harmful micro-organisms along the way.
  2. Within the Thames Valley network, pipe installation work is already underway and programmed for completion in 2021/22.
  3. In Whangamata system optimisation work has been scoped, with the optimised use of storage capacity completed by June 2018.

NZ Drinking Water Standards Compliance report 2016-17

The key findings of the NZ Drinking Water Standards Compliance report 2016-17 for the Thames-Coromandel District were:

Compliance for Part 4 of the Drinking water standards around bacteria (E.coli):

Overall compliant:

  • Thames
  • Matarangi
  • Whitianga
  • Hahei
  • Tairua
  • Pauanui

Overall non-compliant:

  • Thames Valley/Matatoki
  • Onemana
  • Whangamata
  • Coromandel Town

Meanwhile no drinking water sources met overall compliance for Part 5 protozoal (giardia/cryptosporidium). Some points to note here:

  • In Coromandel Town and Tairua, failure was down to not meeting one bacteria (e-coli) measurement, as our contractor couldn't access either of these areas within the allocated timeframe, due to road closures during an extreme weather event.
  • At other sources, there were relatively minor breaches in the allowable turbidity (lack of clarity/sediment) levels in the water for short periods. This was because we were unable to obtain the required consistent time-stamped readings during the allocated time to meet the Drinking Water Standards.
  • Our schemes in Matatoki and the Thames Valley are rural supplies used primarily for stock, and have never met Drinking Water Standards.  For many years now, we've been advising any households who choose to use this water to install point-of-entry household treatment systems (UV systems) or to boil for potable water use. You can read more about how we manage those supplies on our website:
  • There has only been one occasion in the past five years where a boil water notice has been issued within the District and that was in March 2016 in the Coromandel Town supply, when a malfunction at the treatment plant caused an increase in turbidity, which breached the limits for public drinking water supplies. In those three days where the boil water notice was in place, our Council provided bottled water to the schools, kindergartens and medical facilities.

The main recommendations from the compliance report were:

  • Provide catchment risk assessments for Hahei and Thames Valley (Omahu, Puriri and Matatoki) water sources.
  • Provide validation (up to date certification) of the UV water filter supply units we use.
  • Provide clarification on what I.T systems our Council plans to use to collect and store monitoring for protozoa compliance.
  • Provide clarification on what our Council plans to do about non-treated and unmonitored water supplies.
  • Radiological testing carried out by groundwater sources by the end of 2018. Radiologic compliance is another requirement of the Drinking Water Standards where  ground water has to be analysed for radioactivity every five years and surface water every ten years.
  • A Water Safety Compliance report for Whangamata submitted by the end of 2017.

What is the Drinking Water Standards annual report?

Drinking-water supplies in New Zealand are expected to demonstrate compliance with the New Zealand Drinking-Water Standards 2005 (amended 2008). These specify water monitoring (ie taking samples for testing) and other requirements for supplies, both at the treatment plant and within the distribution zone itself.

The number of samples to be tested varies depending upon the size of the community, the quality of source water being used (eg deep groundwater versus river or lake water), and the treatments and risk-minimising processes that are in place.

Compliance with the Standards is measured by looking at how the zone or plant meets the requirements for a 12 month period (measured between 1 July and 30 June).

Useful links

Here's the link to Stage 2 inquiry report into Havelock North Drinking Water contamination here

The office of the Auditor General has released its water works programme for 2017-18 which you can read here