The Māhanga water supply remains a supplementary supply with a boil water notice in place – despite infrastructural improvements.
Wairoa District Council Chief Executive Kitea Tipuna is reminding Māhanga residents that the Māhanga supply is not potable, residents should have their own water tanks for their drinking water and that the current supply is classed as supplementary and not suitable for drinking.
The existing Māhanga supply was not designed for drinking water and does not comply with New Zealand drinking water standards. The cost of delivering a long-term safe potable supply that complies with New Zealand Drinking Water Standards was given a high-level estimate of more than $1 million nearly three years ago, with a significant spend required for more accurate costings.
The situation has been compounded by changes to national water supply rules and the establishment of Taumata Arowai, the new drinking water regulator, which focuses on safe, reliable drinking water and takes a more robust approach to non-compliance and lifting standards.
The Three Waters Reform and delays in creating Three Waters Entities, which have now been pushed out to go live between July 1, 2024, and July 1, 2026, have created further challenges.
There have been two referendums regarding the future Māhanga water supply, and in both cases, the majority of residents voted in favour of keeping the non-potable water supply going.
The most recent referendum in 2021 saw 31 votes (59.61%) of voters in favour of keeping the Māhanga water supply open and 21 voters (40.38%) in favour of the closure. Under the Local Government Act 2002, a threshold of 75% of votes cast is required for the water service to close.
The result of the referendum meant the continuation of the current non-compliant non-potable water source. While the current Māhanga water supply remains open, a permanent boil water notice is in place due to E. coli readings recorded in the water source during some sampling.
Mr Tipuna said there had been significant changes in the drinking water environment around water policy and legislation, increasing costs and a lack of future certainty.
“The 2017 and 2021 referendums put the choice in the hands of the residents, and they chose to keep the supply going. If there had been a decision to close the supply, Council’s duty would be to ensure the community has safe and reliable drinking water, which would be achieved with rainwater tanks and filtration and UV disinfection.
“Since the last referendum, Council has carried out some upgrade work but has also discovered new risks following source water catchment studies, meaning the permanent boil water notice must remain in place.”
Improvements have included an extra storage tank and piping to feed the upper reservoir from the lower bore, now the primary water source. Remote monitoring and control have been set up, and chlorine dosing has been established.
The old piston pump has been replaced, and a new water storage tank has been installed at the public toilets to limit the burden on water supplies over peak seasons.
There is still work to be done around capping and decommissioning the old bore, improvement works to the current bore and replacing and moving the upper reservoir.
Mr Tipuna said that this season has been particularly challenging, with the weather causing power outages and flooding the bore area, which has caused water discolouration - although testing has shown no e-coli is present in the water.
“I would like to thank the Mahanga community for their patience. It is as challenging for Council as it is for residents in such a changing environment. We would like to remind residents that the boil water notice for the Māhanga water supply remains in place.”
7 September 2023
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