Fixing Napier's water woes could take 20 years, cost almost $300 million

t's expected to be costly for taxpayers.
t's expected to be costly for taxpayers. Photo credit: RNZ

Tom Kitchin for RNZ

Fixing Napier's brown water problem could take two decades and almost $300 million, a new report has revealed.

Since chlorine was added to the water four years ago, residents have complained of brown, stinky water gushing from the taps.

The mayor campaigned on getting rid of it, but it's now clear there's no quick fix.

Across parts of the city, chlorinated water flows from the taps, blackening washing and bathtubs.

Many residents hate the smell, taste, the look and they want it gone.

Chlorine was added to the network in 2017 after E coli was found in the water.

Mayor Kirsten Wise won by a significant majority in the 2019 election, with a big promise to try and remove chlorine from the water.

Napier City Council then estimated this could take several years of infrastructure upgrades and cost around $150 million.

But at the time, Wise disagreed.

"I don't think that the figures are going to be anywhere near that high based on the research I've done, and I've been looking into this for two years," she told RNZ in 2019.

Today, as mayor, she said the projected cost - now sitting at $284m - was unexpected.

"Look, I would love to remove chlorine from our water supply tomorrow, and I committed during the campaign to investigate how we could do that, and look, I wasn't anticipating it to be to the cost we're having now coming through this report, but again, it's 'cause we're in this constantly changing environment."

She said it was a case of law changes.

"Eighteen months ago, the regulations were quite different to what they are now, and the regulations are still changing and will be different again in another 12 months' time, and they're only getting harder to meet, which all translates to additional cost."

But a peer review for the report suspected the cost estimates were rough, plus or minus 50 percent, because they were not asked to design or cost specific solutions.

Guardians of the Aquifer is a local lobby group, campaigning to rid Napier of its chlorinated water supply.

Spokesperson Pauline Doyle demanded councillors be upfront about the report.

"It'll put a huge burden on ratepayers and we want the council to be honest with Napier residents, we want them to come clean and publicise the fact that these consultants may have inflated the cost estimates by as much as 50 percent."

On the streets of Napier today, there were differing opinions on having chlorine in water.

Asha Diack believed there was a cheaper solution - tap filters.

"We have the filter to try and make the water healthier. I think that it's a good option for people to look into filters in their own homes, maybe it's something that landlords could look at doing as well."

Meanwhile, Brad Stone did not even notice any issues.

"I think it's perfectly fine... well I've not seen too much evidence of any dangers or anything and keeps things clean, keeps people healthy from other dangers in the water."

Sue Ferris certainly did see issues, and thought it was a failure of councils for letting it get so bad.

"I'd prefer it wasn't chlorinated, I'd prefer it didn't need to be, because it tastes better basically, it doesn't react with the pipes so badly, I think it's sad that they've let it get this bad, it should never have got to this stage. They should have kept the upkeep of the water system a whole lot better."

The council plans to take the report through this year's long-term-plan process so the community gets a say about whether they want chlorine to stay or go.