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Groundwater critical to large number of drinking supplies

April 4, 2019

ESR leading water scientist Murray Close says the country’s groundwater needs urgent attention.

An inaugural conference on groundwater is being held in Christchurch tomorrow (Friday April 5 – details below), in a bid to improve understanding and information about a resource which 40 per cent of people in New Zealand rely on for their drinking water supplies.

Murray Close says the health of groundwater is crucial to the quality of surface water.

Groundwater is made up of water in the pores or cracks in sands, gravel and rocks and is essential for the environment, communities and agricultural productivity.

“While our rivers and the state of their health are rightly regarded as important taonga, little attention is given to the groundwater that sustains the flows in most of our rivers and streams.”

He says most of the time groundwater is out of sight, out of mind.

“When we do notice it, it’s when something goes wrong, such as the widespread illness linked to a contaminated bore that took place two years ago in Havelock North,” he says.

With more than five thousand people affected, the contamination of water supplies in Havelock North was regarded as one of the worst public health outbreaks in the western world.

“For all that, scientists still know relatively little about groundwater, particularly about how it might be affected by increasing demand, pollution and climate change. It’s vital that we build up our scientific knowledge to protect groundwater now and for future generations.”

The government has introduced two major water initiatives, the Three Waters Review and the Essential Freshwater programme.

A report on the Three Waters Review released late last year, said in many parts of the country, communities could not be certain that drinking water is safe.

It also said the events that led to the Havelock North contamination, have demonstrated that the existing system does not adequately safeguard against the

risk of catastrophic contamination incidences, or drive improving compliance with the drinking water standards.

“The Inquiry into Havelock North Drinking Water observed there is little understanding amongst the New Zealand public about the large numbers of people who become ill every year by consuming unsafe drinking water,” the report said.

Murray Close says as the government embarks on huge water reforms, it is critical that groundwater is not forgotten, particularly in the face of new challenges such as climate change and emerging organic contaminants.

Conference information

GroundsWell 2019: Symposium on Groundwater Management and Research

WHEN: Friday, April 5, 2019 from 9:30am – 4:30pm

WHERE: University of Canterbury Students’ Association’s Event Centre, 90 Illam Road, Christchurch

WHO: Keynote speakers include Ken Taylor, Director, Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, Tina Porou, Poipoi Limited, Tim Davie, Chief Scientist, Environment Canterbury, Graham Sevicke-Jones, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research


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