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Turitea Water Treatment Plant - Minister's Speech

Upgraded Turitea Water Treatment Plant

Palmerston North

Thursday February 24, 2000

Safe Drinking Water Essential For Good Health



Embargoed 10am Thursday, February 24

Thank you for your invitation to speak today. We are all here to celebrate the opening of the upgraded Turitea drinking-Water Treatment Plant, a facility which will ensure City of Palmerston North has a safe drinking-water supply for many years to come.

We can also celebrate another drinking water milestone today, though it is not actually related to the treatment plant upgrading.

I am informed by the Ministry of Health that Palmerston North now has an official Aa grading for its drinking water. That is a capital or upper case 'A', referring to the quality and safety of the drinking water, and a lower case 'a', referring to the reticulation system.

Until now the city has had an Ab rating, but improvements in the management and monitoring of the reticulation system have led to the new status. My congratulations to Palmerston North. As someone who worked in the city in the early 1990s, I have always known Palmerston North water tastes good. Now I can feel assured that, like the mail, the water will always get through safely.

I am always pleased to have an opportunity to meet those professionals who supply our essential services. The supply of safe drinking water is so critical for public health and yet so often taken for granted.

The original Treatment Plant was built in 1953 and has served Palmerston North very well providing safe drinking water during that time. However new risks to our water supply catchments have necessitated stricter standards of treatment to provide the necessary protection for the community from diseases such as Cryptosporidiosis, Giardiasis and Campylobacteriosis. The rates of these diseases in New Zealand are far too high.

Although we have a small population and a relatively ‘clean green’ environment, it must be remembered that New Zealand has large numbers of farm and feral animals which can carry these diseases and spread them throughout our water supply catchments. This is difficult to control.

You are fortunate that much of your water supply catchment is in bush which, with sound management and planning, can greatly reduce the level of the diseases in the water source. This is a very valuable asset to be protected, and the fact that you have it is a tribute to early residents of the city who looked to the Tararua Ranges as the natural source of a reliable and safe water supply.

Over the 130 years since Palmerston North was founded, residents have not always been as receptive as those early ones to efforts to improve the water supply. In the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s ratepayers rejected schemes to raise money for drinking water projects, but there has been far greater awareness of the issues since then, and today the people of Palmerston North can be rated Aa for attitude just like their water supply.

Although diseases such as those I have mentioned can be transmitted in a number of ways, such as food, poor hygiene and contact with animals, it is essential that drinking-water is treated adequately so that it is not the source of the problem.

If drinking water isn't free of disease causing organisms, measures to reduce the transmission of disease in other ways are of limited use.

Palmerston North City Council has recognised the importance of safe drinking-water for the health of its community and committed $4 million to upgrading this treatment plant.

As I mentioned, the new upgraded plant has already received its ‘A’ grade under the Ministry of Health’s grading system which examines not only the quality of the water produced, but also the risks to that quality.

Whilst the plant has performed very well for what it was designed for over 40 years ago, the upgrade will enable the people of Palmerston North City the security that their drinking-water has the following improvements:

 Improved filtration performance to greatly reduce the risk of Giardia and Cryptosporidium;

 An ability to easily meet proposed new standards for removal of these organisms. Performance figures produced by the upgraded treatment plant are well inside the proposed new limits, giving even greater security;

 Most plant functions are automated which will ensure even better control;

 The plant is Y2K compliant;

 There is better emergency planning and risk management for the supply.

The Ministry of Health, with the ‘Expert Committee on Drinking-water,’ is currently reviewing the 1995 drinking-water standards and I expect these to be available later this year. The up-grade of this plant is therefore very timely.

At the same time the Ministry is in consultation with Local Government New Zealand and other interested parties in the preparation of new Drinking-water Regulations. Issues being considered for the proposed regulations include:

 water supplies to have risk management plans;

 compliance with the drinking-water standards to become mandatory for communities above a certain size;

 results of water quality monitoring to be publicly available;

 auditing of water supplies for compliance by accredited auditors.

Recently the Government agreed to the development of a New Zealand Health strategy, which will set our goals and targets as we strive to reduce disparities in health care, and create a healthier country.

Safe public water supplies are an important factor in providing equal health opportunities for all. As well as safe water, fluoridation of the supply ensures that the oral health benefits of a safe and fluoridated supply are available to all, even the most disadvantaged families.

Small, low income rural communities find it particularly difficult to provide safe water supplies and sewage treatment. The Government has recognised this and stated in its election manifesto that it will examine providing assistance to rural communities for the provision of safe sanitary works.

The Ministry of Health is currently undertaking a pilot scheme to provide safe, treated drinking-water to up to 30 small, low income communities and Marae in the Hokianga region.

This Pilot will provide valuable information on the most efficient way to provide safe drinking-water by savings in scale and how to target the communities that will most benefit.

The communities will have significant involvement in the project and obtain a sense of ownership and pride in providing themselves with safe water, that most basic of public health needs.

The Turitea drinking-water treatment plant will ensure a safe water supply for Palmerston North for many years to come and make a major contribution to the health of your community for many years to come. Well done, and thank you for inviting me back officially to the city I enjoyed living and working in so much.


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