Council blamed for gastro
The first stage of the inquiry into Havelock North’s drinking water contamination found several parties (including both the district and regional councils) failed to protect the public from disease.
The inquiry found that while no party directly caused the contamination of the aquifer — an incident that led to more than 5,000 people in Havelock North becoming infected with campylobacter — the aquifer was poorly managed and both the Hasting's District Council and the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s awareness of risks were inadequate.
The report states: “Responses to the August 2016 outbreak were generally well handled, particularly by the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board… There were, however, significant gaps in readiness, such as the District Council’s lack of an Emergency Response Plan, draft boil water notices, and up-to-date contact lists for vulnerable individuals, schools, and childcare centres.”
According to Lyn Stevens, chair of the Havelock North water contamination inquiry panel, “the inquiry showed that meeting [drinking water] standards was only part of the story. When the source is an aquifer the delivery was dependent on the source being free of contaminants and the supplier being aware of the risks of contamination.”
Sheep faeces were the likely source of the campylobacter according to the report, which either entered the aquifer from a nearby pond or washed over the boreheads following heavy rainfall.
During the first day of the inquiry, Hastings District Council water services manager Brett Chapman told the court “we now have a far greater understanding of what’s in the immediate area that could pose risks”.
However, the inquiry found that the same bores caused an outbreak of campylobacter in 1998. Part of the failing of the district council as the water supplier was that they "did not take the 1998 outbreak seriously enough" to "implement enduring, systemic changes".
The district council is now proposing to spend over $12 million upgrading its water network, which will include chlorinating the urban supply.
The second stage of the inquiry will focus on systemic issues and provide recommendations for managing water supplies across New Zealand.