​Water sector needs to embrace learnings from Havelock North Inquiry

10 May 2017

10 May 2017

The Havelock North Water Inquiry’s report into last August’s water contamination highlights a number of failures by all parties charged with the delivery of safe drinking water.

Water New Zealand Chief Executive John Pfahlert says the industry needs to learn from the findings so that a similar contamination event does not occur again.

He says the report points to a failure to learn lessons from an earlier contamination in 1998 and this is consistent with international experience.

“It is very common for institutional knowledge to get lost through staff and organisational changes, and that’s something that all councils and water service delivery organisation need to be more mindful about.”

The report is critical of the performance of staff at both regional and district council levels and within the District Health Board.

“This highlights the need to ensure that staff are appropriately qualified and trained to manage drinking water systems.”

He says there were a number of missed opportunities that could have prevented the campylobacter outbreak.

“On top of this, the report highlights the fact that the Drinking Water Assessors were too hands off in applying the Drinking Water Standards.

“The report acknowledges that the DWAs were under resourced and underpowered to discharge their responsibilities and this will be taken up in Stage 2 of the Inquiry.

“The relatively high level of failure to meet the protozoal standards across New Zealand as reported in the latest Annual Report on Drinking Water Quality 2015/16 should also be a signal to other District Councils that there may be a problem in their system.

“The findings of the Inquiry correctly identify relationship problems between the Regional and District Councils. This lack of communication between the organisations meant that earlier clues that the water could have been contaminated were not picked up until it was too late.

“All councils and district health boards around the country need to heed the message that good working relationships and information sharing are critical in ensuring that safe drinking water is delivered to communities.

“Each organisation has its own role to play in delivering safe drinking water but all they need to work closely with each other so that the dots are joined and the public can be assured that there are no safety gaps.”