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Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry stresses on major water reform

The NZ Government has come under pressure to implement major regulatory reforms for the guaranteed safety of drinking water following last year’s Havelock North contamination scare.

This also comes right after the release of the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry’s stage two report, which identified systemic problems in the regulation and supply of safe drinking water, and the need for major reform.

The inquiry was called after a campylobacter outbreak in 2016, which caused gastrointestinal illness in 509 people – including four fatalities, according to the New Zealand Herald – following consumption of water from what was previously considered a safe, though untreated, groundwater supply.

Water New Zealand Chief Executive John Pfahlert said while many councils do a good job providing safe drinking water, the inquiry has identified issues with regulation and supply that require immediate action.

"Unless there are significant changes to the way drinking water is regulated, there is a serious risk of another contamination outbreak on the scale of Havelock North,” he said.

“This report provides a blueprint for the government to move forward to ensure that our drinking water meets the needs of what New Zealanders and visitors should expect from a modern 21st century developed world water supply.”

The report also highlighted the need to establish an independent water regulator with the power and ability to enforce drinking water standards.

“We support the inquiry recommendation that the government create an establishment unit to oversee the creation of a new drinking water regulator,” Pfahlert said.

The report also recommended mandatory treatment for all public drinking water supplies, including the use of a residual disinfectant, and calls for a mandatory training and qualification regime to be established for all operators, supervisors and managers working in the sector.

“We simply cannot afford to have another water contamination event such as occurred in Havelock North. The outbreak resulted in many unnecessary cases of illness including loss of life, which has been tragic for those affected and their families,” Pfahlert said.

"Experts from around the world are now watching very closely to see how we respond to these findings. We would urge that the government implement the recommendations without delay because, if it does not, there is a serious risk of another similar contamination outbreak.”

CH2M Beca’s Andrew Watson will be speaking at Ozwater’18 on the waterborne disease outbreak at Havelock North in 2016. To learn more, register here.