Rural water systems remain on track

Rural water systems remain on track

According to the news, the three water sources for Arohena would return to their original function: providing water for livestock.

The headline of the article suggested that New Zealand’s water services regulator was “turning off the taps in rural areas”.

In fact, the taps will still be open, but the water they carry will not be fit for human consumption.

In a statement, Taumata Arowai told The News that it is committed to taking a reasonable approach to ensure communities have safe drinking water and that public health is not compromised.

Issues relating to the Arohena scheme’s three water supplies – Huirimu, Kahorekau and Taupaki – predate the current Water Services Act and the establishment of Taumata Arowai.

In October 2023, the agency sent letters to a series of municipalities across the country requesting a funded plan to install protozoa barriers in their drinking water treatment plants.

The Ōtorohanga District Council had until June 30 to come up with a plan, but faced high costs and decided to revert the system to a stock-based provision.

Deliveries are currently provided with a cooking notice.

Taumata Arowai pointed to the 2016 outbreak of waterborne disease in Havelock North, which resulted in an estimated 8,000 cases of campylobacteriosis and four deaths, as an example of why it was important to ensure that water suppliers maintained multiple barriers to prevent contamination.

“The approach proposed by the council is for control of the program to be shifted to the users of the program and for it to return to its original intended use (livestock only). As the council points out in your article, many of the 270 people currently served by the program are alternative drinking water sources, mainly through borehole water or rainwater,” the statement said.

June 22, 2024

Ōtorohanga’s rural water systems will only be considered serviceable for supply due to national water regulator Taumata Arowai requiring expensive upgrades.

In a letter threatening enforcement action, the agency has given the district council until the end of the month to confirm a financing plan for a required protozoa barrier for the three Arohena water supplies – and have it operational by December 2024 to have. Protozoa are microscopic single-celled animals.

Strict water regulations have forced Ōtorohanga District Council to recommend a cut in rural water supplies

Waikato District Health Board placed the three water supplies under a permanent boil water notice in February 2021. They form the Arohena program and users were surveyed in 2018 about removing the drinking water portion of the program, as was done with the Ranginui Rural Water Program in 2016.

A 2017 report to council by engineering consultancy Beca estimated the total cost of meeting compliance for the Huririmu, Koharekau and Tuapaki facilities at more than $6 million. The three facilities serve just over 200 properties and the requirement was deemed unaffordable for that taxpayer base.

A recommendation from staff to the council’s Risk and Insurance Committee is that the Arohena plans remain under the boil warning and that staff should close the Arohena Rural Water Scheme’s drinking water supply. Taumata Arowai should also be notified.

Arohena’s three separate water supplies operate independently of each other, supplying water to farmers, rural residents and the Arohena school.

“There are people out there who aren’t drinking this water at the moment, they have alternative supplies, whether it’s bore water or rainwater,” said Mark Lewis, the council’s technical and asset manager.

“I think it’s quite unique to have a rural water system in a rural area that provides drinking water. Most farming communities in New Zealand would already have their alternative water supply for drinking water.

“So it’s not something new for the rural sector. They’re a very resilient sector of our community. I’m sure a lot of them would already have existing systems in place, so it’s a little different to if we were looking at a permanent drinking water supply.”

In response to a question from independent chair Peter Stubbs, Wharepuhunga ward councillor Cathy Prendergast agreed that water plan users were happy with what was being proposed.

The Arohena Rural Water Scheme Committee was fully aware of the challenges facing the council and was fully aware of the primary purpose of the scheme: to support agricultural activities.

“They do not want significant financial burdens to be placed on the scheme, which will ultimately lead to higher costs per cubic metre and will invariably drive costs up until it becomes unaffordable to remain in the scheme.”

The Arohena rural water scheme was built in 1982. The intention was to provide reliable and affordable water for the primary use of agriculture. Because the water was also consumed by people, the rural projects evolved into drinking water suppliers.