Drinking water contamination spike

More Kiwis are drinking water contaminated by faeces, according to a government report on the quality of our H2O.

Dairy farmers are being blamed, with water in rural areas the most polluted.

Figures from the annual Drinking Water in New Zealand survey show 92,000 people were drinking unclean water in the last year, compared to 72,000 two years ago.

The Green Party says the increase is most likely caused by intensified farming, as some of the worst results were in small, rural towns.

It is now calling on the Government to supply more funding to upgrade water schemes in those areas.

Water in New Zealand is measured annually for compliance. Supplies must meet bacteriological, protozoal and chemical standards.

A supply fails the bacteriological standard if levels of E coli - a kind of bacteria found in faeces that can cause serious infection - are too high, too often.

For the 2011-12 year, 2.4 per cent of the population were drinking water with excessive numbers of E coli compared to 2 per cent in 2009-2010.

Figures for 2010-2011, affected by the Christchurch earthquake, do not provide a reliable comparison.

The worst regions for excessive E coli breaches were Canterbury (19,010 people drinking polluted water); Waikato (15,314); Hawke's Bay (13,063) and Otago (12,179).

The areas with most people which had E coli transgressions were Havelock North (Hawke's Bay), Richmond (Tasman) and Quarry Hill (Dunedin).

The report said that in all those places, "remedial actions" were taken immediately in almost all cases, and there were no reports of water-borne illness outbreaks among these communities.

However, Green Party water spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said the number drinking unsafe water was unacceptable.

She said a decision by the Government in 2010 to cut funding to the Capital Assistance Programme - which supports small communities to improve drinking water quality - was part of the problem.

"The report shows that drinking water non-compliance is generally located in towns with populations of less than 5000 people," Sage said.

The report said 31 per cent of small water supplies did not meet the ministry's bacteriological standard.

The report said that protecting the quality of source waters is probably the most important way to manage drinking water supply to meet the standards.

Overall, 76.7 per cent of New Zealanders (2,920,000 people) were drinking water that met all the requirements in the last year.

Sunday Star Times