Water upgrade a $10m council priority

NEEDS A FIX: The Branxholme Water Treatment Plant will benefit from a $10 million refurbishment.
NEEDS A FIX: The Branxholme Water Treatment Plant will benefit from a $10 million refurbishment.

The Invercargill City Council will have to pour $10 million into the Branxholme Treatment Plant as fears grow that the city's drinking water will plummet below acceptable standards.

But the multimillion-dollar project to refurbish the plant, which is the city's only source of water, will use all the money set aside for finding an emergency water supply.

The city council had planned to use $6m during the next two years to look for an alternative water source, and a further $1.75m was already budgeted for the upkeep of the plant. The money would all now go to the $10m upgrade.

However, that cost could be blown out further.

Council water manager Alister Murray says in a report for the infrastructure and services committee agenda that the price could possibly increase by 30 per cent, warning it would climb if the work was deferred.

Invercargill City Council chief executive Richard King said at this stage the council would only have to stump up $2.25m on top of the funds it had already earmarked for the other work.

The upgrade would hopefully begin at the start of the new financial year in July.

"We want to do it straight away. We have got major concerns that if it was assessed now, it may face a substantial decrease in grade."

The plant, which is currently an A grade plant, could drop to as low as E grade, he said.

The grading system is used to establish the quality of the water. The highest rating, A1, means the water is completely satisfactory and has a "negligible level of risk". An E grade carries an "unacceptable level of risk".

Drinking water was the most important service the council provided and it wanted to ensure it was delivered to the highest standard possible, he said.

The plant would also eliminate the issues some residents had with the colour and taste of water when there was an algae outbreak during the dry season, he said.

"When the river levels drop then we can get a taste and odour problem. We treat it with activated carbon but some people still notice the taste."

Council director of works and services Cameron McIntosh said the upgrade had been in the pipeline since the middle of last year, when a multitude of issues were highlighted in a commissioned report.

He had expected there to be some issues, but not to the extent that was identified, he said.

However, the multimillion-dollar refurbishment would improve the filtration of the water, and the efficiency of the plant.

He would not be drawn on whether that would result in job losses because of the new technology and efficiencies.

"I honestly do not know the staff numbers."

The plant was difficult to run and employed highly expert staff.

"It's more of an art than a science," he said.

Infrastructure and services committee chairman Lindsay Thomas said the choice to refurbish the plant instead of finding a source of alternative water was the best option.

"Branxholme is far more a priority."

Councillors will consider the refurbishment of the plant at a meeting on Monday.

The Southland Times