OPINION: Like a Third World country, or the small desert Erin Brockovich town, New Zealand is in the grip of a water crisis.
Four people died and 5000 people fell ill after Havelock North’s water supply was contaminated with campylobacter in 2016.
Households in Rangitikei’s Marton ensured decades of murky, brown tap water due to collapsed asbestos cement pipes.
Temuka’s water supply was tainted with asbestos in December 2018.
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This summer alone ‘boil water’ notices have been issued for Naseby, Pateroa, Te Horo, Otematata, Duntroon, Tokarahi, Awamoko, Cannington, Motukaika, Featherston, Martinborough, Coromandel Town, and Mt Pleasant in Christchurch.
Wellington’s sewage spewed into the harbour and bubbled up into the streets.
And in the last fortnight came the frightening news that lead had been detected in water supplies to Otago coastal towns at 40 times the safe level for drinking.
Residents of Waikouaiti and Karitane are understandably furious that children and vulnerable people were exposed to the presence of the toxin, likely from lead joins in ageing cast iron pipes.
The problem was first detected in August, but Public Health South and Dunedin City council did not tell the public.
Delays, a lost email and a confusing web of multiple agencies meant it was weeks before the public was told about the presence of the highly poisonous heavy metal.
So now, we must have another review. Still, excellent news for those servicing the burgeoning public service inquiry sector.
But what more could it tell us? A two-part 2017 report into the Havelock North poisoning revealed 20 per cent of us are drinking from supplies which are “not demonstrably safe”.
Nearly 100,000 are at risk of bacterial infection, 681,000 of infectious diseases caused by protozoans (like cryptosporidium or giardia), and a shocking 59,000 under threat from the long-term effects of exposure to chemicals.
Even those horrifying figures are an under-estimate. It did not include more than 600,000 people who drink from self or temporary suppliers.
Years of complacency and under-investment had led to damaged pipes, numerous private and unidentified bores, and sewerage systems built close to drinking water assets.
The most damning criticism was levelled at the Ministry of Health, which was described as inept and negligent in its oversight of a system in which non-compliance with safety standards was high.
It is the same ministry that will lead the East Otago contamination review.