Battle brewing over water treatment cost

Minister for Health David Parker is expected to provide recommendations for urgent action to Cabinet before Christmas

"Failures at all levels, from the legislation to governance and weak institutional capability, have contributed to a drinking water system which is unsafe, inefficient and unacceptable".

The report on the second stage of the inquiry into the gastro outbreak in Havelock North past year, when more than a third of the town's 14,000 people become sick from contaminated drinking water, was released yesterday.

Also he pointed out that even though 20 per cent of the country was found to have water supplies that were at risk, that didn't mean that they weren't safe to drink.

It makes 51 detailed and specific recommendations on how to ensure safe drinking water for New Zealanders.

The inquiry's report, released yesterday, said that intensive farming...

The report left some of its most scathing criticisms for the Ministry of Health which it said had an enormous vacuum of leadership, did not properly manage water suppliers, and failed to prosecute shocking levels of non-compliance.

As much as 9000 kilometres of water pipes from as far back as the 1950s needed replacing around the country, at a cost of $2.2b, according to the report.

He acknowledged there would be a cost to mandatory treatment, and said the Government had not yet decided what funding, if any, it would provide for councils.

While the inquiry appreciated that legislative change to mandate drinking water treatment with a residual disinfectant (most commonly chlorine) would take some time, it urged the Director-General of Health to encourage and persuade all water suppliers to use appropriate and effective treatment without delay.

The report isn't all bad news though with Mr Parker wanting to address the fact a large majority of Kiwis had access to treated water.

He repeatedly made it clear that the Government believed the issue was primarily one for local, rather than central, government.

"There are already challenges for some communities in paying to upgrade and maintain three waters infrastructure, so any conversation about standards needs to be accompanied by a discussion about the costs to communities of meeting those standards, and how these costs can be equitably shared by all users of water services".

"The inquiry indicates that while drinking water standards instituted in 2007 represented worldwide best practices at the time, since then New Zealand's standards have not kept up with the world", he said.

We have noted the recommendation that the Auditor-General be invited to monitor the implementation of the recommendations and initiatives in the Havelock North drinking water inquiry report.

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