Report recommends mandatory treatment for all drinking water

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Water in Auckland and Wellington is safe, but one-fifth of New Zealanders could be drinking water that is not "demonstrably safe". "We thought we were complying with the standards before, we thought we had things safe, but now there's a lot more rigor and it's a wake up call- for the rest of the country as well", says Ross McLeod, CE of Hastings District Council.

December 6 (BusinessDesk) - The government will consider merging council-run drinking water suppliers among the raft of recommendations to deal with New Zealand's inadequate drinking water system.

While some of its recommendations required changes to existing laws around drinking water management, the report urged "urgent and early action" on other issues.

The inquiry was prompted by an outbreak of a water-borne bacterial infection in the town of Havelock North previous year that made more than 5,000 residents ill, possibly killing three.

As much as 9000 kilometres of water pipes from as far back as the 1950s needed replacing around the country, at a cost of $2.2b, according to the report.

Parker said mandatory treatment was not as controversial as it used to be, with a number of cities with large populations making the change in the previous year.

While the inquiry appreciated that legislative change to mandate drinking water treatment with a residual disinfectant (most commonly chlorine) would take some time, it urged the Director-General of Health to encourage and persuade all water suppliers to use appropriate and effective treatment without delay.

Mr Cull said some communities, like Christchurch, were proud of having untreated water, and could be reluctant to fork out money - especially if the risk of getting sick was low.

"There are already challenges for some communities in paying to upgrade and maintain three waters infrastructure, so any conversation about standards needs to be accompanied by a discussion about the costs to communities of meeting those standards, and how these costs can be equitably shared by all users of water services".

Non-profit industry group Water New Zealand backed the inquiry's findings, with chief executive John Pfahlert saying major reforms were needed to improve the country's drinking water supply.

The Government's inquiry into the Havelock North water contamination outbreak has recommended to make it mandatory to treat all public drinking water supplies in New Zealand, and has called for a dedicated drinking water regulator to be established.

Parker said the Government had not yet decided which of the recommendations it supported and which, if any, it opposed.