Water supply upgrade balances cost, quality

ALISTAIR SOWMAN
Last updated 09:56 04/02/2013

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OPINION: The Marlborough Express recently published criticism of the quality of the Picton water supply, noting the town's supply does not meet the national drinking-water standards.

Picton is getting a big share of the council budget to make improvements there.

Blenheim's drinking water is the only water supply in Marlborough to fully meet the national drinking-water standards and most small communities struggle to afford the high level of treatment required to meet those standards.

Picton's Essons Valley supply has been upgraded in recent years at a cost of $1.5 million and fully meets the standards. The town's other water source - the Speeds Rd aquifer - is being upgraded next year to meet the standards. This will involve the installation of UV light disinfection at a budget of $4.5m.

But this doesn't mean that the Picton water is unfit to drink now.

Picton residents can be assured that the council regularly monitors water quality and there will be an immediate response if there is any issue of public health.

Blenheim's water supply was upgraded during 2010-11 after low-level contaminants were detected in the town's supply wells.

Upgrades to meet the standard are more affordable in the larger population centres, which have a larger rating base. In Blenheim's case, costs were spread over several years in a rate targeted to the town's ratepayers.

It is all very well for the Government to bring in the national standards but it didn't bring in the funding to enable communities to meet them instantly. It is a huge cost for smaller places like Picton to upgrade their treatment processes. I don't think it would have been fair to these ratepayers to expect them to do it straight away when the existing water supply is not causing health problems.

There's always going to be debate about how quickly we bring in improvements but infrastructural upgrades always come down to priorities. And, right now, Picton is getting a major sewerage system upgrade which will not only raise the treatment levels but also reduce current overflow problems in wet weather. The recent sewer outfall pipe removal was a $5m project and many millions more is programmed for the ongoing upgrade.

A large part of each of these substantial improvements for Picton has been met through council's reserves funds. But these funds are directed around the region and across various projects; not all into one area. I think that is fair and reasonable.

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The key to successful local government administration is improving infrastructure at a speed at which the community can tolerate the cost, while also trying to deliver the quality of services that the community expects. It's not an easy balance to achieve but the aim is always to deliver as much as possible without putting too great a burden on ratepayers.

- The Marlborough Express

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