Boil water notices plague the West Coast

The tourism hotspot Punakaiki is under an ongoing boil water notice.
GILES BROWN/FAIRFAX NZ

The tourism hotspot Punakaiki is under an ongoing boil water notice.

West Coasters who live under permanent boil water notices are angry their councils would allow the export of fresh water from the region. 

Five out of eight of the Buller district's drinking water supplies do not meet national standards and have permanent or ongoing boil water notices. 

John Buchanan, who lives in Waimangaroa, a small village just north of Westport, said the council had a boil water notice on his water supply for about four years. 

Waimangaroa is on a permanent boil water notice.
Sheree Cargill

Waimangaroa is on a permanent boil water notice.

He said it was ridiculous that councils on the West Coast would allow a private company "to pump free water to tankers and sell it at a profit to the thirsty of the world while the majority of smaller towns and settlements in the Buller District are having to boil water".

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Okuru Enterprises has consent from the West Coast Regional Council to take and export up to 800 million litres of water per month from a pristine creek in South Westland. It also has Westland District Council consent to build a pipeline and storage facility. 

Buller mayor Garry Howard.
Joanne Carroll

Buller mayor Garry Howard.

Buller Mayor Garry Howard is a shareholder in the company, having owned 2750 shares in Okuru since 1992. He said he had declared them with the council's register of interests and the Buller District Council was not responsible for granting any consents for the project. 

Buchanan said it was shameful that some of the West Coast's water supplies were unable to meet acceptable drinking water standards.

"I do note that the town of Westport is not, as yet, subject to a boil water notice, as anybody who has tasted Westport water would appreciate that no self-respecting bacteria or germ could survive in the chemical mess that supposedly masquerades as drinking water.

"How much longer do the ratepayers of the Buller have to tolerate this third-world water while our council spends money on walking and cycling tracks that can be ill-afforded?" he said.

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The Waimangaroa water intake collapsed about three years ago in a storm and had not been replaced.

"Where they're wanting to put a bore down, they're going to be taking risk of contamination from everybody's septic tank. It's going to cost a lot of money and we only have 100 ratepayers here," he said. 

Punakaiki business owner Patrick Volk said the water in the coastal village was "horrible".

"The council keep promising for almost three years to get the water sorted. They said in the annual plan that water would be the biggest priority. Of course we hear how Punakaiki is the jewel in the crown for the West Coast and tourists don't have pure water to drink," he said.

He had to have 10 kettles boiling so his backpacker guests could have water to drink.

"It's crazy. Tourism is growing on the Coast but we need to provide clean water. The tourists think we are New Zealand clean and green and they are really surprised when I tell them 70 per cent of the year you have to boil the water. It's just ridiculous. It's just not on," he said. 

Buller District Council assets and infrastructure manager Mike Duff said the water contamination in Havelock North in 2016 highlighted the risks and consequences of getting water supplies wrong.  

"We will be working hard over this coming year to reduce amber and red alerts for all of the supplies council are responsible for," he said. 

He hoped the Waimangaroa supply would be upgraded by early 2018. 

Since his appointment in November, he has reviewed and provided councillors with an update on all the district's water supplies, including plans for upgrades. 

The Hector/Ngakawau, Little Wanganui, Mokihinui, and Waimangaroa did not meet standards, were untreated and had permanent boil water notices. 

The review found Punakaiki's overall performance was poor, and an ongoing boil water notice was in place. It had inadequate filtration, and bacterial and protozoal counts had exceeded thresholds. Protozoal are parasites that cause diseases such as giardiasis.

The council aimed to have a new filter installed in Punakaiki by May. A plan to upgrade the Ngakawau scheme was opposed by the community in a 2016 vote. The  Ngakawau-Hector Water Society is opposed to the upgrade because it claims it owns the water scheme. 

Howard said the council was responsible for all water supplies and was in discussions with the society to reach an agreement over ownership and the upgrade. 

He said Duff's review of the water supplies was "well overdue". The council was working towards meeting its responsibility to provide clean drinking water and had accessed government subsidies for upgrades. 

He was concerned about the West Coast's reputation as a clean, green destination.

"It's a New Zealand-wide reputational issue. So many rural communities around the country have exactly the same issues. Tourists need to be aware they can't make assumptions that the water is meeting Ministry of Health standards. It is of concern and that's why we need to work towards meeting our responsibilities," he said. 

The Grey district had four boil water notices in the year to April 12. Taylorville and Runanga both had positive E coli tests, but the two Blackball notices were due to heavy rain, council assets manager Mel Sutherland said. 

The Westland district also had boil water notices for the Whataroa, Arahura and Kumara water supplies in January and February. 

Tourism group Advance Northern West Coast chairman Geoff Schurr said it was "crazy" that he could drink from the rivers on the West Coast but not the taps. 

"Our council is trying to serve a massive area that requires huge infrastructure with only 8 per cent of that area is rateable. They don't get enough rates to pay for infrastructure. It's a massive issue that needs to be addressed at a Government level. I know the Government is looking at tourism taxes and different things they can do," he said. 

If the 500,000 people who visited Punakaiki's pancake rocks every year were charged $2, the village would be able to invest $1m a year back into clean drinking water, toilets and other services, he said. 

 - Stuff

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