'I don’t like the position we are in': Concerns over 'impossible' drinking water standards

The Waimakariri District Council has decided to withdraw its remaining chlorine exemption...
The Waimakariri District Council has decided to withdraw its remaining chlorine exemption applications to Taumata Arowai. Photo: David Hill / North Canterbury News
Chlorine exemption applications have been withdrawn by the Waimakariri District Council due to ‘‘impossible’’ drinking water standards.

Dan Gordon. Photo: Supplied
Dan Gordon. Photo: Supplied
Mayor Dan Gordon said he has raised concerns with Local Government Minister Simeon Brown about the Water Services Act’s drinking water standards, which are imposed by national regulator Taumata Arowai.

‘‘In my conversation with the new minister I raised that it is almost impossible to achieve an exemption under the new standards, so maybe it is something that needs to be reviewed,’’ he said at a council meeting on Wednesday (February 7).

The council voted to withdraw its applications for chlorine exemptions for the Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Oxford urban and Waikuku Beach drinking water supplies for now, and to write to Mr Brown asking him to reconsider the standards.

An application for the Cust water supply was declined last year, while the Woodend-Pegasus exemption application is still being considered.

Three Waters manager Kalley Simpson said the council would have a better idea of what was needed to achieve chlorine exemptions once it had received feedback from the Woodend-Pegasus application.

‘‘We believe our applications in their current form would be declined, based on the Cust decision, so we need to withdraw and look to resubmit when we have done the necessary work.’’

He said initial estimates suggested it would cost up to $100 million to bring the six urban supplies up to an acceptable standard to receive a chlorine exemption.

The Rakaia Huts drinking water supply in the Selwyn district has received a chlorine exemption for five years, with conditions, Mr Simpson said.

The council opted to chlorinate all of its drinking water supplies last year, after the Cust application was declined.

But Mr Gordon said the council had not given up.

The Waimakariri district was one of the last to chlorinate its water supplies and the had long believed it had ‘‘gold standard’’ drinking water, which was fed to deep underground aquifers, Mr Gordon said.

‘‘We have pushed back as strongly as we could and it is clear we are going to have to do more work to comply, but we are not giving up.’’

‘‘I don’t like the position we are in, but we are obligated to follow the law.

‘‘In order to achieve exemptions, the bar is incredibly high, so we need the new Government to consider whether that is acceptable.’’

Health experts recommend chlorine to kill harmful natural organisms that can grow in water, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, and to make it safe to drink.

World Health Organisation studies show the small amount of chlorine needed to treat drinking water is safe for people.

Chlorine added when the water leaves the treatment plant continues to protect the drinking water by killing bacteria that enters the system, Taumata Arowai says on its website.

By David Hill, Local Democracy Reporter

■ LDR is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air.