Wellington water: Researcher warns Kiwis could face health consequences if leaky pipes aren't fixed

A public health researcher is warning Kiwis could face serious consequences, including danger to their health if the country's leaky water pipes aren't fixed.  

Leaks across Wellington remain visible, with water spouting out of drains, seeping out of the ground or rushing down gutters.   

University of Otago research fellow and freshwater expert Marnie Prickett said if the problem isn't fixed, Kiwis could start getting sick from contamination.  

The warning comes after the University of Otago researchers calculated leaky pipes are costing ratepayers 20 percent of their water.  

Prickett, co-author of the research, found some communities can see about 40 to 50 percent of their water lost - such as those living in Wellington.  

Prickett warned consequences of leaky pipes could also include "water scarcity during summer months, damage to surrounding infrastructure from the leaking... and possible pathways for contamination". 

Speaking with AM on Wednesday, she warned the loss of water "isn't just about financial value".  

"It also means that where there are broken pipes, there are also pathways for contaminates to get into people's drinking water and potentially make them sick," she warned.  

"There is definitely a health risk and something people need to think about."   

She stressed the importance of understanding the value of safe drinking water in communities.   

"Our health is the most important thing," Prickett said.   

"We've got to remember that the infrastructure investments that we make now and the way that we look after our water network now has intergenerational consequences.   

"It isn't just about us, these have a long-life span - so we have to get it right.  

Prickett said the Government hasn't had enough "rigorous debate" about 'Local Water Done Well' - the Coalition Government's replacement of Three Waters.   

"I think there needs to be more scrutiny on 'Local Water Done Well,'" she stressed.   

"There's already some red flags in the Government's proposal which have the potential of leaving some communities out."  

The Government said the plan will allow councils to "buddy up and merge water assets in council-controlled organisations".  

However, Prickett said people are already noticing the problems.  

"Some councils may not be attractive to other councils to join with to get that algamated water service provider. That is just one of the things that people have highlighted as a problem in the 'Water Done Well' package. 

"We really need some more public debate and rigor around what we are setting up. Otherwise, it's going to have consequences for not only us, but the people coming next."  Through her research, Prickett said she found the cost of water Kiwis are losing per year sits at about $122 million.  

"We looked at the 'real world' charges that councils are charging their residents for water, per cubic meter," Prickett explained.  

"Then we compared that with how much water we are actually losing out of our system every year. We calculated that to be around $122 million worth of water that's being lost out of our leaky pipes."  

Prickett said Kiwis need "a sense of the value of what we are losing when we don't fix our pipes".  

"There's infrastructure set up to make sure that it's good quality water that's going into our homes, but because the system to get that water to us is broken, we are losing that value out of the system."