Government inquiry into Havelock North water contamination finds 'widespread' and 'systemic' failures among NZ's water suppliers; Local councils and the Ministry of Health to blame

It has taken contaminated water making more than 5000 people sick in Havelock North, for a Government inquiry to reveal 20% of New Zealand’s drinking water doesn’t meet safety standards.

The admission comes in a 286-page report that makes up the second part of the Government inquiry into Havelock North’s 2016 campylobacter outbreak.

The inquiry has found “widespread systemic failure” among water suppliers - which are usually local councils - when it comes to meeting safety standards.

“The industry has demonstrated that it is not capable of itself improving when the standards are not met,” the report says.

“Neither has the Ministry of Health, the government body charged with administering the provisions of the Health Act governing drinking water, shown an ability to call the industry to account.

“There is currently no adequate or effective enforcement of the statutory obligations on water suppliers. The DWAs [drinking water assessors, who are employed by local public health units] are under-resourced and have not been able to discharge their statutory responsibilities…

“The Inquiry has found that the drinking water industry has over at least a five year period experienced problems on multiple levels. These include source protection, drinking water suppliers, difficulties attracting qualified and experienced staff, the Ministry of Health drinking water team, lack of leadership, and the regulatory environment.

“All of these problems have combined to produce a lack of public awareness of the changes over recent years to the risks resulting from unsafe water.”

721,000 an underestimate of at risk New Zealanders

The inquiry has shied away from naming which local authorities are the worst offenders, but says people receiving water through uncapped bores, where rain water and run-off can get in, are most at risk. 

Nonetheless it says 721,000 New Zealanders are receiving drinking water from reticulated supplies (serving populations of 101 or more people) that is not demonstrably safe.

"This figure is likely to be a significant underestimate," the report says.

"It does not account for the large visitor numbers in some of the small, non-compliant, townships.

"Nor does it account for people receiving water from supplies that supply less than 101 people, self-suppliers and temporary suppliers... some 625,000 New Zealanders obtain their drinking water from such supplies."

Introduction of drinking water regulator among recommendations

The inquiry makes 51 recommendations - 19 of which it categorises as “urgent”.

Some of the recommendations include:

- Making it mandatory for all water supplies to be treated.

- Establishing a new independent drinking water regulator, responsible for overseeing all aspects of the system, monitoring, compliance and enforcement.

- Changing the classification system for bores to avoid the misconception that bore water drawn from a “secure” aquifer is always safe to drink.

- Prohibiting new below-ground bore heads, as they introduce unnecessary risk.

- Moving to larger, aggregated water suppliers to improve compliance, competence and accountability.

- Making immediate operational changes at the Ministry of Health.

- Making a number of changes to strengthen legislation and regulation, and to more strongly enforce standards.

- Amending the Resource Management Act to recognise the importance of protecting and managing the sources of drinking water.

- Establishing a licensing and qualifications system for drinking water suppliers and operators.

- Improving resourcing and training for drinking water assessors.

- Requiring water suppliers to have an emergency response plan that includes a pre-prepared boil notice.

- Making joint working groups mandatory and enabling better information sharing between authorities.

The Government says it's considering all the recommendations. 

Government putting pressure on local authorities

In the meantime, it has written to mayors and district health boards, asking them to check the water they’re supplying residents meets current standards.

Attorney General David Parker says: “There is nothing in law preventing councils immediately moving to improve the treatment of water.

“Alongside this, Minister of Health Dr David Clark will brief Cabinet before Christmas on the next steps – short and long term.

“This is a priority for us as a Government.

“My message to New Zealanders is that we are taking this seriously, and we will be responding quickly to address the issues raised.”

Health Minister David Clark says: “The inquiry indicates that while drinking water standards instituted in 2007 represented international best practice at the time, since then New Zealand’s standards have not kept up with the world.

"This is a failure of the previous Government, and one we will take control of and address.”

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50 Comments

So whats changed? Why after so many cities having safe drinking water for so long, do we suddenly need to chlorinate?

Andrew city water has always been chlorinated
Chlorine kills baddies & keeps the water treated until it comes out of the taps having travelled miles through pipes to get there.
When I lived in Auckland I got giardia from drinking water
As it’s a notifiable disease the department of health contacted me and asked a series of questions
In the end they told me they’d had 14 cases that were all linked to one part of Auckland
Giardia isn’t as bad as food poisoning but it’s annoying
The giardia developed from decaying leaves entering the water system They don’t tell you but there’s water main breaks all over the city.
Where I live now we have a drilled well and full filtration system making the water beautiful to drink.
I guess those low property taxes on the richer areas and no land transfer tax on every sale mean there’s no money to pay for infrastructure
Banana land

(NB: Andrew probably knows more about water in New Zealand than most of us!)

Well a lot of Cities don't have chlorinated water

Some use UV sterilisation, which isn't as good, as it only kills whatever is in the water as it get sterilised and anything that gets into the pipes after that is not killed, chlorine is better as a low level of chlorine stays in the water right to your tap. There is also the whole flouride debate, it should be a national requiremet to flouridate drinking water.

Thats true on the UV front, you need a residual of chlorine in the water to kill any potential down stream issues. Giardia and crypto arent easily oxidised by chlorine though. Ozone/UV, particularly in combination (passing ozone through a uv chamber creates hydroxyl radicals) oxidises nearly everything at the source and leaves no residual in the water.
In my opinion, low chlorine levels in conjunction with ozone/uv would be a winner.

Christchurch city doesn't have chlorination Northern Lights.

Chlorine causes cancers and the risks for some cancers are increased by up to and over 90% for some cancer types.

I'm not sure where you got the decaying leves entering the water system as being the cause of giardia from, as giardia is a parasite. It can form a cyst to survive in the environment and these cysts are very small which get through filtering systems....WHO appears to set the water standards. How these standards are achieved is up to us.....

Chlorination might be affective in destroying giardia but the known health issues are something that have to carefully weighed up......If we jump on the "sustainable" bandwagon chlorination would hardly fit the criteria given the human and environmental impacts it causes.

I'd check your sources. Mercola, foodbabe etc are loons to be ignored. IARC etc do not agree that low level chlorine exposure is a health risk. https://www.cancerwa.asn.au/resources/cancermyths/chlorine-cancer-myth/

I think you should not make assumptions as to where I source my information from.
There are plenty of reputable scientific journals publishing peer reviewed studies on chlorine and human health.
I suggest you follow the links below as the studies are numerous and one study of course creates more studies.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10952098
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6759108

Chlorine was actually used in chemical warfare during WW1 and some 5000 people died in Ypres in one hit from chlorine gas..

Hot showering will expose skin, airways, eyes etc to the chlorine and gas. Then there are the bi-products which are creating a plethora of scientific studies to be undertaken as they become implicated in detrimental human health outcomes.

I’m wondering if there’s a lot of IT folks here because their education is so miopic they have no general knowledge
Or maybe there’s a lot of 30 something’s here perhaps

Or maybe because they sit at computers all day...

:)

Like you good folk, I too am browsing Interest.co.nz via papyrus.

Can someone suggest why they will not declare which area may be affected by sub standard water? One would think that when something like this happens it would be of govt's best interest to tell residents of affected area to use bottled water instead of not knowing?

Do we all need to brush our teeth in whisky just to be safe?

Yes.
No tooth brush.
Single malts are best.

Probably best not to use an Islay one. "Peaty" really means higher count of fecal parts per million.

No more Ardbeg Corryvreckan as mouthwash then? How else am i going to get that mouthful of mud and kicked by a mule feeling in the morning?

Octomore is better for killing anything

Hmm, watch out:

Researchers at Harvard University found that people who used mouthwash twice a day were around 55 per cent more likely to develop diabetes or dangerous blood sugar spikes, within three years.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/11/22/mouthwash-may-kill-benefic...

I'll bathe in it too. Can't be too careful.

The medicinal whiskies approved during prohibition perhaps, (normally an Islay like Laphroaig)? However I would think a Speyside would pair better with bangers and mash for tea.

I haven't read the full report, but here's an indication for starters in one news article:

Among those suppliers not treating water were: Christchurch Central, Hastings City, Havelock North, Kaiapoi, Lower Hutt, Mosgiel, Napier, North West Christchurch, Rangiora and Rolleston.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/99585534/drinking-water-inquiry-...

Those places are all south of the Bombays.. are there even any million dollar suburbs included? *duck*

Yep, Fendalton. That Auckland water is terrible - you can't even make a decent flat white with it :)

Ol Dr Death as he was known by health professionals was really on top of his Ministry and he then had the cheek to put his name down for the National party leadership after Key saw the writing on the wall.

Agreed Dr Death at his cost cutting best. Cannot be as simple as this surely, but nine years of this problem equates to nine years of a National Government. Anybody who thinks that that government did not give a toss about the ordinary folk of our country, sure know what they are talking about. $30 mill blow out on new offices for the Ministry of Health, bet that included water filters for the top floor of that particular ivory tower.

Oh dear....if you are the type that gets your knickers in a twist of fluoride, then here's another to add to your worries.

Millions need to be spent, much on beauracracy . All because a few idiots didn't even attempt to protect the source of the water from obvious contamination threat. Humans really are dumb.

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The report found that it only took 24 hours for water to get underground from the Tuki Tuki river to the bores in Havelock.
A river heavily polluted due to intensive farming on free draining soils alongside river bed, along with thousands of cattle on feed pads literally on the river.

The water came from a pond in a sheep paddock adjacent to the insecure bore head:

"(a) Contaminated drinking water was the source of the campylobacter bacterium that caused the gastrointestinal illness campylobacteriosis among Havelock North residents in August 2016. Sheep faeces were the likely source of the campylobacter.

(b) It is highly likely that heavy rain inundated paddocks neighbouring Brookvale Road causing contaminated water to flow into a pond about 90 metres from Brookvale Road bore 1. On 5 and 6 August 2016, water in the pond entered the aquifer and flowed across to Brookvale Road bore 1 where the bore pump drew contaminated water through the bore and into the reticulation system.

(c) Contamination may also have occurred when water from neighbouring paddocks entered roadside drains adjacent to Brookvale Road bores 1 and/or 2 and then entered the bore chambers. lf sufficient water had entered the chambers, it could have risen to a level where it overtopped the bore head cable holes and, because the cable seals were loose, travelled down the cables into the water supply. This scenario is regarded as much less likely than travel from the pond to the bore via the aquifer, as described above."

Rivers in the area are declining, Nitrate levels in the Tuki tuki are of concern and deteriorating.

That is utter crap Andrew and you know it. The contamination came from no where near the Tukituki river and the river was tested clear as soon as the outbreak occurred. Perhaps you could explain why every other bore in close proximity to Brookvale was tested clear and proved the aquifer was itself not contaminated but only the Brookvale bores themselves. If you are concerned about water quality of the Tukituki I would hope you have all of your own waterways on farm fenced off from cattle.

You cannot prove it didn't. The Tuki tuki has high N levels, a lot of it is coming from the steams that flow through the intensive agriculture areas, like Black Stream with a N level over 12.
The Hastings council managed to borrow 125 million but couldn't even find a few thousand to service a bore.
http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/201813134/...'s-bay-regional-council-chairman-on-water-contamination

I have some very stoney flats, I have 12 cows on 3 k of stream, I start fencing this year but due to the extreme nutrient levels, weed growth will be an issue so the stream will require grazing at least once a year. I don't see fencing streams as the great panacea to our problems with water quality.

I see the main issue as large corporate type farms with intensive farming systems, who also own most of the debt in the farming world, enabled by the banking industry.

With all due respect the Havelock North Water contamination had nothing to do with N levels in the Tukituki or N levels in any water body for that matter. If you want to quote what the actual N level is in the Tukituki then perhaps you refer to the actual data like here. https://www.lawa.org.nz/explore-data/hawkes-bay-region/river-quality/tuk.... Then its useful to compare that to various water bottles sold for drinking. If you think the Tukituki is high then you will also think anyone drinking bottled water is in trouble too.

Convenient they left out the Papanui and Black stream. Listen to the interview with HBRC chairman.

https://www.lawa.org.nz/explore-data/hawkes-bay-region/river-quality/tuk...

https://www.lawa.org.nz/explore-data/hawkes-bay-region/river-quality/tuk...

What are you on about? The Papanui is upstream from that data point. You can quote all the opinions you want. All i ask is you provide some data to back up your original assertion

its downstream. I know I live on it.

One failure of Bureaucracy is rewarded with even more of the buggers. We already had National fresh water policy that was supposed to be binding, we already had systems to protect us that were over looked.

No one lost a job or paid a price, the voters rewarded the mayor buy voting him into Parliament. Sometimes I worry about our future, perhaps Dimitri Orlov is onto it.

Yes, the lack of accountability is shocking - and yes, thousands poisoned and the guy at the top becomes an MP. It's all unbelievable. Our freshwater problems in this country are disgraceful. Fed Farmers resistance to regulation has been disgraceful. The National Party amending what qualified as wade-able (a stupid standard for starters that was even too high a bar for the farming community) was disgraceful. I can't believe to what degree some New Zealanders will defend the indefensible.

And now it’s neighbour, Napier, has somehow lost its ability to supply clean reliable water?

So completely caught up in pseudo-corporate cargo cult bullshit that they're putting everything into the glamour promotion branding stuff, and letting the core business of infrastructure and services go hang. Yeah, half the town now have cholera, but look at this lovely billboard for the money-losing grand event we were suckered into funding over a fancy dinner with the Chamber of Commerce! Bonus time!

Dear Andrew Chlorine is Worlds Numder 1
Read & you’ll learn
https://thesummitregister.com/the-well-studied-water-treatment-benefits-...

Just as well as your vegetables are soaked in it, 27x what we get in our water, at least they stay fresh these days.

In Africa and India , definitely. I haved lived on water laced with Betadine long enough, but it's always a better option than drinking the water.

Peru 1991 provides a precautionary tale when infrastructure for sewage and safe water is substandard. Eventually killing 10,000 from cholera.
http://www.nytimes.com/1991/04/19/world/cholera-kills-1100-in-peru-and-m...
http://users.physics.harvard.edu/~wilson/arsenic/remediation/Chlorinatio...

1991? That was before facebook. Now the warning system of choice here in NZ when water borne disease is on its way to your tap. We'll be fine.

Reclassify it as 100% pure wadeable and we're all good.........just another example of a successful economy! Repeat ad nauseam until people actually believe it.

Unsafe water affecting a substantive percentage of NZers - sounds like the Third World to me. Pathetic and shameful.