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Too many New Zealanders receive drinking water of unknown quality


17 Mar 2021

17 March 2021

One in five New Zealanders are supplied with drinking water that is not guaranteed to be safe from bacteria contamination, according to Ministry of Health data.

Water New Zealand’s chief executive, Gillian Blythe says that is a serious public health risk.

She told the Health Select Committee today that the establishment of Taumata Arowai will result in a long overdue and much needed improvement in the safety and quality of drinking water.

“Water New Zealand strongly supports the Water Services Bill which provides the regulatory toolbox for the new drinking water regulator, Taumata Arowai.

“It will provide more oversight of source water and hold suppliers to account if they breach standards.”

It has been nearly five years since the Havelock North contamination crisis resulted in the deaths of four people and more than five thousand infected with campylobacter.

The subsequent inquiry revealed the systemic problems in the way drinking water is supplied throughout the country and recommended major changes including the establishment of a drinking water regulator.

However, she says there is also a need for stronger monitoring and regulations around the quality of water that goes back into the environment.

“We would hope to see more scrutiny over wastewater and stormwater discharges, including from onsite wastewater management systems, because that has a big impact on the environment and public health.

“The three waters – drinking, storm and wastewater - are inter-related, and this is a gap in the current legislation.”

Another concern is the liability placed on water sector employees who could be liable for fines for breaches under the proposed new legislation.

“While Water New Zealand accepts the need for duty-holding employees to exercise due diligence, many decisions that affect water quality are made by elected councillors.

“Decisions around financing and affordability have a major impact on the quality of water and infrastructure and this has a big influence on the ability of water sector managers to carry out their role in providing healthy water.”