700,000 Kiwis could be drinking unsafe water - report

Over 700,000 New Zealanders could be drinking unsafe water, a new report shows.

Water in Auckland and Wellington is safe, but one-fifth of New Zealanders could be drinking water that is not "demonstrably safe".

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4:30pm - Infrastructure NZ recommends charging for water

Infrastructure NZ says there have been failures at all levels - from legislation to governance and weak institutional capability.

The infrastructure advocacy group says while the inquiry looked at drinking water, "the issues are systemic across the sector including waste and stormwater services."

The group says larger entities "will generate economies of scale" which councils afford drinking water standards of a higher level.

It recommends charging for drinking and wastewater use, saying metering reduces demand by 15 percent, thereby reducing the need for "expensive new water sources, treatment and distribution networks."

4pm - Hastings District Council 'will read the report with interest'

Hastings District Council says the inquiry's recommendations will be helpful.

"The recommendations for mandatory treatment and residual disinfection provide certainty for our community and all New Zealanders", Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said.

Chief Executive Ross McLeod said Hastings District Council has responded to all the criticisms raised in the Stage 1 report. 

"The Council has engaged international experts and is carefully following and implementing the advice," Mr McLeod.

3:30pm - Hawke's Bay Disktrict Health Board welcomes findings 

The Hawke's Bay District Health Board says it welcomes the report's recommendations.

"Since the outbreak there had continued to be reports of E.coli in water supplies throughout Hawke's Bay. This continuously puts at risk the health of those communities," Chief executive Kevin Snee said in a press release.

"Therefore, I was heartened to see the recommendation that - CEOs of DHBs (with Public health responsibilities) should advise drinking water suppliers that all supplies should be effectively treated pending any change to the law…"

3pm - 'Major reform urgently needed'

Water New Zealand is calling on the Government to implement the recommendations made in the report.

Chief Executive John Pfahlert says urgent reform needs to take place - or there is a "serious risk of another contamination outbreak."

He highlights the recommendation to establish an independent water regulator, to create a unit to oversee a new drinking water regulator, the treatment of all drinking water and a mandatory training regime for all operators. 

2pm - The report is released

The inquiry recommends a number of urgent measures, including asking the Director-General of Health to persuade suppliers not to rely on "current 'secure' bore water classifications".

It recommends changes to the classification system for bores in order to avoid what it sees as the misunderstanding that bore water drawn from a 'secure' aquifer is always safe to drink.

It urgently encourages the universal treatment of water. Risks to the public "are simply too high to continue with such supplies", the report says.

"The inquiry found that 80 percent of residents have access to water which meets current standards. The inquiry raised concerns about the other 20 percent," Minister for Health Dr David Clark said.

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

He attempted to lay the blame at the feet of the previous Government.

"This is a failure of the previous Government, and one we will take control of and address," he said.

The findings come from the second stage of a Government inquiry into the Havelock North water poisoning that saw 5,500 people become ill from drinking contaminated water.

The illness may have contributed to three deaths, and 45 people were hospitalised.

The outbreak was traced to two shallow bores on the outskirts of Havelock North. After some heavy rain, contaminated water flowed from a paddock into a pond 90m from the extraction point.

The water was not disinfected with chlorine or UV treatment, so drinkers consumed the bacteria. 

The report also recommends:

  • Creating a new independent drinking water regulator
  • Recommends a move to larger, aggregated water suppliers as an effective and affordable way to improve compliance, competence and accountability
  • The inquiry makes a number of recommendations to strengthen legislation and regulation