Council to consider chlorination later this month

By Nicki Harper, originally posted on November 5, 2016


At the end of this month the Hastings District Council will be given an update on the chlorination of the water supply that followed the campylobactor outbreak in Havelock North in August.

National water standards require drinking water to be chlorinated for three months after contamination, and in September Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said he wanted the people to decide whether to chlorinate long-term.

The public council meeting, the date for which will be confirmed next week, will also consider plans going forward, including supplying Havelock North during the peak demand over summer, Mr Yule said.

“All water treatment options will be considered as part of this.”

He said any decision on chlorination would be made in consultation with the Ministry of Health, which signs off water treatment and security plans.

At a Water New Zealand conference and expo held in Rotorua near the end of October, water managers were told they needed to take a stronger lead in ensuring communities were supplied with safe drinking water.

About 200 water sector leaders and representatives attended a panel discussion on the implications of the Havelock North water contamination crisis as part of the three-day event.

Some members talked about the frustration of having recommendations to treat water ignored by local government politicians despite the risks involved.

“There are cases of contamination that happen all over the country that people don’t hear about and what we’ve been hearing is that ratepayers and politicians are not qualified or knowledgeable enough to make crucial decisions around water safety,” said Water New Zealand chief executive John Pfahlert.

Havelock North “dodged a bullet” in August, he added.

“There’s been a long line of similar incidents in other first world countries where something went wrong and people have got sick and died in their dozens or hundreds.

“The key lesson has been that it’s important, even if drawing water from a secure aquifer, that there’s some form of secondary protection – whether it be ultraviolet to kill bugs, filtration barriers, chlorine or a combination.”

He said if he was a councillor considering this he would want to know from the council staff what the industry best practice was.

“If you divert from that course of action, you have to think what risk am I running if something goes wrong?”

Even in a secure source such as Havelock North, contamination could come in from a well that’s poorly designed, or well designed but poorly constructed, or it could be an issue related to backflow such as the power going out and a pump stopping – there were all sorts of possibilities, Mr Pfahlert said.

“You can’t reduce the risk of infection to zero but you can put physical and chemical barriers in to get it effectively as close to zero as you can get.

“The reason that councils oppose chlorination is about politics, it’s not got anything to do with science.”

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