Hopkins stands by viewpoint

The government’s water regulator has defended itself from claims it was bullying the Waitaki District Council, but its harshest critic is standing by what he said.

Last month councillors agreed to go ahead with plans to meet Taumata Arowai’s new water treatment standards, but many expressed concern about not having enough time to explore other options.

Seven of Waitaki’s water sources must be upgraded to filter any potential protozoa — single-cell organisms that can be parasitic — by the end of the year. A plan needs to be confirmed and funded by the end of June.

Taumata Arowai has the power to take enforcement action against councils that do not meet the deadline.

The strongest critic at the meeting was Councillor Jim Hopkins, who said council staff were "being bullied by a government agency that is using a big stick and threatening".

A Taumata Arowai spokesman said it was surprised by the views expressed by councillors.

"We understand that the best solution to put in place can differ from supply to supply.

"Unfortunately, no single barrier or treatment is effective against all sources of contamination ... that is why a multi-barrier approach is critical."

It had offered to meet councillors to hear their concerns and questions first hand.

"We both want safe drinking water for the communities of Waitaki.

"A conversation about how best to phase the work and ensure the most cost-effective solutions are identified is a sensible way to achieve that."

It praised the council for being proactive in exploring treatment options and placing boil water notices on supplies without a protozoa barrier.

"From our perspective, things have been moving in the right direction."

Cr Hopkins said if he "could hop into a time machine and whizz back in time" he would have chosen a word other than bullying, such as strong-armed, but ultimately Taumata Arowai had done nothing to alleviate that feeling.

Taumata Arowai’s response was a defence of its position, not an attempt to solve the issues councillors had raised, he said.

The time pressure established by Taumata Arowai had impacted the cost of the project and what the council thought it could do, but this was not acknowledged.

The regulator’s position seemed "very firm" and as such he could not change how he felt about it, Cr Hopkins said.

Upon hearing Cr Hopkins’s response, the Taumata Arowai spokesman said the timeframe it set fit with the next budgeting cycle for councils across the country.

"It allows a short period of time to make sure the plan is right for the type of supply, while also setting a clear deadline so that communities know when a barrier will be in place."

Taumata Arowai was open to talking with councils about their challenges and the options to address them.