Water ‘nightmare’ without reform

Waipori Falls resident Daniel Williamson is concerned about water supply issues after four months...
Waipori Falls resident Daniel Williamson is concerned about water supply issues after four months of on/off supply. PHOTOS: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Four months of nightly water restrictions were "a nightmare" for a Waipori Falls resident who says drinking the water at home caused him to vomit blood.

Daniel Williamson said he once hoped the Otago village’s water services would be rescued by Three Waters reform, but with that programme shelved, the community was vulnerable.

Despite its location in the Clutha District, the remote former hydro village is self-administered by a body corporate of residents, which owns and controls roading, bridges and water infrastructure serving about 35 households.

Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said while he sympathised with the community’s plight, it was difficult to see how the council could step in and help at this point.

Correspondence from the body corporate shows Waipori residents were made aware of a water shortage, due to some unknown leak in the water system, in September.

At one point the situation was so dire residents only had access to water for seven hours a day.

It took until last week — after about 130 days of intermittent boil water notices and overnight water restrictions — before the leak was discovered and water services returned to normal.

During a dry spell of weather, several residents had observed an unusually high flow of water in Oak Ridge Creek.

A section of Village Loop Rd was dug up to expose the water main where a "substantial crack" was found and repaired, the correspondence said.

 A section of Village Loop Rd  was dug up in order to fix ageing infrastructure.
A section of Village Loop Rd was dug up in order to fix ageing infrastructure.
When the water supplies were low, residents were warned there would be periods of "very clouded" water as rust particles were dislodged from the inside of the cast iron mains pipes.

Mr Williamson, who was previously chairman of the body corporate, said his washing machine was not able to handle the turbid water that came from the supply and had to be replaced.

But also, soon after the first boil water notice was issued at the end of September, both he and a neighbour became sick.

Mr Williamson was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night after vomiting blood.

"It was a bit of a nightmare," he said.

Body corporate manager Barbra Welffens, who issued much of the correspondence provided to the Otago Daily Times, declined to comment.

Body corporate chairman James Murphy also declined to comment.

Mr Cadogan said when water services reform was on the table, Taieri MP Ingrid Leary got him involved in discussions with the community.

Both he and Ms Leary had been "quite clear" there was a possibility a new water services entity could take over the water supply.

Now, with the reforms scrapped, urban pensioners and vulnerable families in his district were facing "unimaginable high rate increases".

With that as the backdrop, Mr Cadogan said he could not see how the council could prudently take on the "risks and problems this group took on when they agreed to the terms and conditions of sale" with Dunedin Electricity Ltd, in the 1990s, which created the body corporate.

"I sympathise with their plight but am also mindful that all communities face extreme challenges around Three Waters and have limited latitude for additional costs."

Ms Leary said she did not think the status quo was sustainable for the village.

"The costs of fixing the Waipori water woes are significant and unaffordable to the community there," she said.

"While it wasn’t ever going to be an easy fix, now they seem to be left high and dry by the new government as councils grapple with a lack of central financial support on water infrastructure and the real prospect of significant rates hikes."