Carterton District Council’s infrastructure, services and regulatory manager, Dave Gittings, in the Kaipatangata Stream. PHOTOS/FILE

STEVE RENDLE
steve.rendle@age.co.nz

Wairarapa’s district councils are unfazed by the government’s announcement of a new drinking water watchdog, with South Wairarapa District Council declaring “we were expecting it”.

The move comes out of a report into Havelock North’s contamination incident in 2016, which was linked to the deaths of four people, with more than 5000 becoming ill.

After two E.coli contamination incidents of its own this year in the Martinborough, SWDC is now taking steps to enable permanent chlorination, and has joined Wellington Water, which manages drinking water, wastewater and stormwater services for a number of councils around Wellington.

The new watchdog is set to make chlorination the norm throughout the country, and combining with other councils – through an arrangement like that with Wellington Water – is also likely for smaller councils.

South Wairarapa District Council chief executive Harry Wilson.

“We have long recognised the benefits of joining Wellington Water because of their depth and breadth of expertise in three waters, in service management and strategic planning,” SWDC chief executive Harry Wilson said.

“As a small council on our own, meeting the new regulations would be more challenging, and potentially costly.”

Having seemingly already taken steps with drinking water that are likely to become requirements under the new regime, Wilson sees only benefits.

“Our expectation is that the new organisation will reduce the complexity of having to deal with different agencies on different aspects of three waters management,” he said.

Carterton District Council’s infrastructure, services and regulatory manager Dave Gittings said the government’s announcement had been well signalled.

“It was the easiest one to tick off the list,” he said.

“It was always going to be a happening thing.

“But, we’re ahead of the game in many respects.”

The emphasis will be on a “multi-barrier” approach to drinking water safety – in Carterton’s case that comprises chlorination and ultra violet light.

In terms of control of assets, Gittings cautioned against any move that might take ownership of infrastructure out of councils’ hands, given its importance in enabling borrowing against assets to spread the cost of work. But he did not see any major changes ahead.

Masterton District Council’s manager assets and operations, David Hopman.

His Masterton District Council counterpart, manager assets and operations David Hopman said smaller suppliers in the region, of which there are a few, could face significant costs in bringing supplies up to scratch and any inability to do so could see councils required to take control.

Private supplies serving single homes will not be affected, but he raised the question of rural schools, marae, and private systems that provided only a small number of houses.

“They do come with quite big costs,” he said. “Compliance costs for small schemes are large.”

The new regime means an end to smaller schemes being required to only to take “all practical steps” in water treatment.

“Every scheme will have to meet the standards.”

The government said regional councils would continue to play their role in the consenting of wastewater and stormwater discharges, there would be stronger central oversight of wastewater and stormwater regulation.

The role of the new watchdog beyond drinking water has yet to be finalised.

“The scope, roles and institutional form of the regulator – including whether to include regulation of all three waters within a single regulator, or separate entities – will be the subject of further Cabinet consideration later in the year,” the government said last week.