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Major impacts in wake of aquifer contamination

One year on from the Havelock North water gastro-outbreak, Hastings District Council has reiterated its “heart-felt sympathy” for all of those affected by the contamination of aquifer-source water feeding the Havelock North water supply.

Council’s on-going top priority is delivering safe drinking water for our community, says Hastings acting mayor Sandra Hazlehurst.

Based on detailed scientific investigation, the Government Inquiry earlier this year found that the campylobacter outbreak was most likely caused by contaminated water entering the aquifer via ponding next to the Mangateretere Stream

Council is using the findings of the Government Inquiry, the results of multiple investigations and new scientific evidence to ensure the same situation can never happen again.

A great number of steps have already been taken and many more are in the new Hastings District Council Water Supply Strategy, released last week. That plan includes investigating new water sources, the installation of a new water main between Hastings and Havelock North, the permanent closing of the Brookvale bore field and treatment facilities across all water sources.

The Government Inquiry is this week focused on the management of drinking water supplies across New Zealand. Expert evidence is suggesting that the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards are not at a world best practice level.

Based on the experts the Inquiry is hearing from “we are expecting to see the Inquiry recommend a major overhaul of the Drinking Water Standards and other parts of the New Zealand drinking water regime,” said Hastings District Council chief executive Ross McLeod.

“Expert panellists have highlighted the important role of treatment, including chlorine disinfection, in keeping communities safe.

“What happened to our residents last year was tragic and terrible and we must do everything possible to make sure it cannot happen again,” he said.

In terms of further support for those with long-term health issues as a result of suffering campylobacter, Hastings District Council and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council this week announced a joint Community Health Assistance Fund.

“People in our community suffered in a number of ways, through the initial illness and some contracting on-going health issues. They have our heart-felt sympathies,” said Mrs Hazlehurst.

While the Government inquiry into the contamination found that neither Hastings District Council nor the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council caused the contamination, it did find that there were shortcomings that needed to be urgently addressed.

“While we did not know about the potential for contamination to enter the aquifer prior to the event, Council has acted quickly to address the risks to water safety within Council’s operations, pointed out by the Government Inquiry,” said Mr McLeod.

That has included developing a new strategy for water supply that addresses the catchment and aquifer risks uncovered.

The scientific learnings had been very important for both Hastings District Council and wider New Zealand. A key learning has been that the aquifers supplying water to Hastings, which were previously considered secure from groundwater contamination, have ‘young’ water in them.

“This has dramatically changed everything we previously believed about the natural security of our water supply. Not treating our drinking water is no longer an option,” said Mr McLeod.

Background: Steps taken

Steps taken since the contamination to ensure drinking water stays safe have been myriad, including closing down the bore that caused the contamination, chlorinating the Havelock North and Hastings water supplies, significantly increasing the range and frequency of testing across all supplies, employing the services of national and international water experts to assist Council with its decision making and review processes, collaborating on a joint working group on water with representatives from councils and health authorities put together to oversee water supply, and fitting a full treatment plant to Brookvale Bore 3.

Others include lifting the bore heads above ground level, installing additional back-up power sources, undertaking a full review of all of Council’s water-related processes, setting aside $12 million to pay for a range of improvements, and signing up to a high-level governance group to oversee the work of the joint working group.

Of most recent importance has been the development and release of the Hastings District Council’s new Water Supply Strategy, which sets out major work that will be carried out, and how water safety will be managed into the future. Of great public interest will be the investigations into a new bore field site. Based on initial scientific investigations the wider Tomoana area is favoured as a location however further detailed investigations are being undertaken.

4 October 2017

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