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Council critical of Hugh Ritchie statement

Hastings District Council today expressed strong disappointment at the “irresponsible and misleading” media release issued in the name of Hugh Ritchie, a board member of Irrigation NZ.

“It is concerning that someone connected with a pro-irrigation lobby group appears to be trying to use the calamity of the Havelock North water contamination event to defend and promote intensive agriculture” said Mayor Lawrence Yule.  “It is even more concerning that Mr Ritchie claims to have seen investigation evidence that Hastings District Council itself is not aware of as a party to the joint investigation being carried out by Council, the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council”.

“The comments made by Mr Ritchie do not align with the results of testing on the bores to date” said Ross McLeod, Hastings District Council Chief Executive.  “Testing to date shows that while some of the gland seals in the bores are not in the condition expected given independent inspection of the bores earlier in the year, the back-up safety systems (sump pumps and flood alarms) are all working as designed when put under a worst case flood event.  In particular the flood alarms functioned on battery power even when the power is off”.

“This suggests that if water had got near the seals in the August storm event the flood alarms would have gone off” said Mr McLeod.  "Our analysis so far indicates no alarms were activated during that storm event”.

“It is far too early in the investigation to be drawing the conclusions Mr Ritchie has reached.  While further testing may reveal problems with the bores, there is still 2-3 more months of testing to do on the bores, the aquifer and the surrounding catchment. However, the testing completed to date shows no clear evidence that water entered the bores through the bore heads.  There is also no evidence as yet of any cracks in the bore casings despite Mr Ritchie’s claims” said Mr McLeod.

Other Council comments on the release:

  • The water infrastructure in Havelock North is not at the end of its serviceable life.  Council has a fully funded infrastructure strategy to provide for all required infrastructure investment.
  • The flood alarms in the chamber around the bore head and the telemetry worked as designed when flood tested with the power off.
  • Contrary to Mr Ritchie’s statement, the Council understands that there is documented evidence of contamination in other bores in the area at times.
  • There are numerous hoggets grazing in the catchment surrounding the bores.
  • Scientific testing indicates that the campylobacter strain found in human samples in August is highly likely to have come from sheep.
  • Mr Ritchie’s illustration of the Havelock North bore is highly inaccurate.
  • There are a number of possible pathways around the bores through which contaminated surface water could enter the aquifer.  “These are all being investigated, and once they were made aware of the situation, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council has been concerned enough to cap and make safe many of them already” said Mr McLeod.

With reference to the 1998 water contamination event, investigations failed to definitively link the increased level of campylobacter cases to faults in the Brookvale bores.  While the water supply was chlorinated at the time, suspicion also fell on the aquifer.  Hastings District Council was required to undertake additional water testing for a year to re-establish secure status for the aquifer supply.

4 October 2017

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