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The warnings came years ago — for anyone who cared to listen — that, without careful nurturing and oversight, the quality of our town water supplies would soon start deteriorating.
Now, the country finds itself struggling with an issue that has the potential to affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders.
The Havelock North water-borne campylobacter outbreak in August last year has set a benchmark of contamination against which no other settlement around the country will ever want to be measured. More than 15,000 people became violently sick after drinking water poisoned by sheep faeces in a pond not far from a bore. Three deaths have been linked to the outbreak.
There have also been worrying signs in Canterbury of the potential for large-scale water pollution, caused by the runoff of nitrates from fertilisers used in intensive agriculture. Environment Canterbury modelling suggests it is possible Christchurch’s aquifers could become tainted in future. And Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey has spoken out about how the increasing amount of irrigation and dairying on the Canterbury Plains is putting newborns at risk of the potentially fatal blue-baby syndrome.
Mosgiel is the latest town to hit the headlines over its water woes. The Dunedin City Council has switched it over to the city supply, because of the potential for contamination in its bore-water system. Some residents are aghast at the move, considering it undemocratic without proper consultation. There are also concerns given Dunedin’s water is not always the best itself.
It was Labour’s then water spokesman, Brendon Burns, who predicted about eight years ago that the integrity of town water supplies was threatened by the National government’s drive for farming intensification and lack of interest in water security.
We hope the findings from the Havelock North inquiry are considered carefully, particularly the suggested establishment of an independent water regulator and a clear enforcement policy from the Ministry of Health on safe drinking water.
Fancy some gravy?
From time to time there is talk of reviving the daily rail service between Dunedin and places north. While this is unlikely in the short term, there already appears to be a train operating in the earthquake-affected Christchurch — a gravy train.
News at the weekend of the size of the salaries of that city’s public sector chief executives highlights how fat cats appear to be thriving among the tangled web of agencies charged with overseeing the resurrection of the new Christchurch.
As well as Christchurch City Council chief executive Karleen Edwards’ $402,900 salary, there are four other bosses of quake-recovery agencies earning more than $300,000 a year. One of these agencies, ChristchurchNZ, is the city’s combined tourism and economic development arm. Three others — Otakaro, Development Christchurch and Regenerate Christchurch — all talk on their websites of delivering projects and working with their partner agencies to, in the case of Regenerate Christchurch, "unlock the full potential" of the city.
We wonder how Christchurch ratepayers, and taxpayers around New Zealand, might feel to be paying these bosses close to $1.4million a year for their services.
Rates and rents have risen sharply in Christchurch since the earthquakes, and with that has come for many residents a feeling of disgruntlement at having to pay more for the privilege of living in a quake-battered city.
The successful rebuild of Christchurch — physically and psychologically — is vital for the South Island, indeed the country. But it does seem that bureaucracy is out of control in the Garden City.
Perhaps it is time for an outsider to cast a fresh eye on what these agencies are actually doing. In the meantime — all aboard!