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Drinking water red flags not always a danger sign

Red flags in a report on Wairarapa’s tap water do not always mean danger. PHOTO/FILE


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Intense scrutiny of Wairarapa’s drinking water is welcome, but red flags do not mean you can’t enjoy a glass from the tap, specialists say.

Earlier this week, the Times-Age reported that water supplies throughout the area had not met the standards required and reported on in the Ministry of Health’s Annual water report.

The ministry analyses chemical, bacterial and protozoa [microscopic animals] as part of research covering thousands of water supplies, and millions of New Zealanders’ access to drinking water.

It also checks a water scheme’s adherence to the Health Act.

According to the report’s strict parameters, a water supply can often fail, but cause no risk to public health.

All New Zealand’s water supplies are monitored for the report. This includes some of Wairarapa’s smaller networks.

Opaki’s water scheme is one of the area’s most compact.

However, with a membership of 1500, it is considered in the same tier as bigger networks across Wairarapa.

Schemes with 500 to 5000 members are considered small town networks. So Opaki’s, although not managed by the council, has to undergo the same scrutiny and compliance as most town supplies

Opaki’s scheme failed on two measures, but these were logistical, rather than harmful findings in the water.

Public health is the priority but it can be labour intensive for such teams, scheme association chair Sid Hayes said.

Hayes said the scheme failed on one measure, of hundreds taken per year, by a matter of hours, due to delivery times for the analysis.

“It looks bad and people panic but we’ve complied with the Health Act,” Hayes said.

“We’ve complied with the chemical component, but for those two things, one of them missing a test by a day, even though we’ve taken more tests than we need to.”

Hayes agreed with Carterton District Council’s Dave Gittings who said the measurement could be a cruel measure, with tiny amounts of data loss resulting in failure for the whole year.

Jill McKenzie, Regional Public Health’s [RPH] Medical Officer for the Wellington region, said such gaps were “the most common reason for not meeting the standards”.

McKenzie said all Wairarapa water suppliers had outlined the intended improvements that will enable them to meet the standards, and meet regularly with a drinking water assessor to provide progress reports.

“RPH is satisfied that improvement plans are being progressed towards meeting the standards.”

She said RPH encourages the community to speak with their local council regarding the work to improve drinking water quality.

“The work requires significant investment over time, the community has input into how councils spend money on these investments.

“It is important that water suppliers continue to invest in supplies to help [with] compliance with the standards and Health Act.

“Water suppliers need to take additional action to protect public health when there is a risk of contamination in the supply, for example increasing the level of chlorine or issuing a boil water notice.”

Anyone who had specific concerns with town water quality should raise them with the council or water scheme operator, McKenzie said.


Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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