Reefton people have come out strongly against proposals to chlorinate the town water supply.
The Inangahua Community Board meeting last night heard that nearly a third of the submissions on the Buller District Council annual plan this year had come from Reefton, and the bulk of those 80 or so submitters objected to chlorination.
"There's been a cacophony of complaints -- no one wants it," board chairman John Bougen reported.
Reefton has been on a 'boil water' notice since summer, after recurring episodes of bacterial contamination in the town reservoir.
The council is proposing to spend $1.2 million on the ageing system in the hope of solving the problem, and Canterbury DHB is insisting it install a chlorination plant as part of that spend.
"It's a thorny issue -- councillors are being besieged by the public," Mr Bougen said.
All sorts of concerns were being raised about the effect of chlorine on old hot water cylinders; on people with psoriasis; even on horses which apparently couldn't drink chlorinated water.
"Could we put in a tap at the treatment plant before the chlorine goes in, for drinking-water? What comfort can the council offer people with these concerns?" Mr Bougen asked.
That would be a case of wait and see, according to council infrastructure manager Mike Duff, who joined the meeting by phone.
"The short answer is, we don't know. This is not unique to Reefton -- communities have had all sorts of experiences ... but it is hard to predict."
The same applied to the council's proposal to install two pressure reduction sites into the reticulation system, and deliver a full pressure supply to the Reefton industrial precinct (in the area of the old railway station), Mr Duff said.
"If that goes ahead, the commissioning would be very carefully done."
To justify the $565,000 spend on pressure reduction the council needed to know where the system was leaking,and that investigation was now under way.
Reefton was losing 90,000 litres of water a day from the system and it was still a mystery as to where it was going, Mr Duff said.
Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine has previously said chlorination for Reefton was inevitable: the council was legally obliged to provide safe water; the DHB was the regulator and it wanted the water chlorinated.
Even with new rising and falling mains and a refurbished reservoir, there was no absolute guarantee there would not be a backwash incident and the chance of contamination, Mr Duff said.
Any upgrade had to include the $65,000 chlorination plant, at the insistence of the health board.
But there was no actual legislation that could force the council to use it, he said.
The mayor agreed.
"We don't actually have to flick the switch -- as long as you stay on a 'boil water' notice."
Work is set to start on upgrading the Reefton water supply this winter, if the council adopts the funding package set out in the draft annual plan.