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Selwyn district councillors voted 7-4 to keep temporary chlorination in place, a controversial decision after chlorination has been a major issue for Selwyn Times readers in recent weeks, with many letter writers demanding it be removed.
Councillor Grant Miller told the Selwyn Times he hoped national water authority Taumata Arowai would grant exemptions for all the district’s temporarily chlorinated supplies by mid-2024.
This was when the district’s water infrastructure was scheduled to transition to entity 4 under Three Waters.
Chlorination is deemed temporary on 17 of the district’s supplies, as it has only recently started, or will soon begin, and will cease on a supply-by-supply basis if exemptions are granted.
Miller did not think the time frame would potentially stretch into five years as was the case for Christchurch, as the Selwyn supplies were relatively modern, with less assessment restrictions.
Miller put a notice of motion seeking immediate cessation of temporary chlorination, which was voted on at last week’s district council meeting.
The notice of motion was lost 7-4 as the majority of councillors sided with staff, wanting to remain on the correct side of the law in obeying new drinking water standards.
They also took into account Taumata Arowai’s first draft decision on an exemption application, issued for the district supply of Rakaia Huts.
The draft decision outlines contamination risks that need addressing before an exemption can be granted.
They include human pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and protozoa from surrounding septic tanks, and faecal matter of roosting birds landing on the supply’s storage tanks.
Councillor Nicole Reid said the draft decision showed the district’s water supply systems were not perfect.
“Havelock North is an example, many people got sick, some people died. We do not want that happening in our community at all,” Reid said.
Taumata Arowai chief executive Bill Bayfield attended the discussion via Zoom. He said he believed information from the draft decision would help speed up the process for assessing future exemption applications.
“I think what it tells us, is that the test in the modern world is very high,” Bayfield said.
- For temporary chlorination:
McInnes said while she had seconded the notice of motion to immediately halt chlorination when it came before the district council last month, she now withdrew that as there was no longer the evidence to support it.
“We have a lot more information in a wider context available to us. I’m no longer comfortable with removing chlorination from our supplies based on the imminent decline of the Rakaia Huts exemption.”
Mugford said his area of Coalgate had been chlorinated for years.
“To start with got lots of complaints, recently I think I have had one in the last year.”
Recently he spent $2260 for a filter, but found no difference when having a drink with his neighbour.
“His scotch tastes no different to mine. So I think it’s the amount of chlorine that is actually in it that is a problem.”
He hoped Coalgate would also get an exemption.
Dean, a former senior police officer, said councillors needed to have evidence-based decision making.
“We now have a lot of evidence in front of us. We have got no control over this, it’s Taumata Arowai and the Government that are saying disinfect your water. We do not have the right to tell our council employees to break the law. And if we think we do, then we are the rogues. The community doesn’t want us to be rogues.”
Reid said new legislation meant the district council had to deliver water that was always fit to drink. The risk did not lie with councillors, but with staff and contractors.
Selwyn did not have perfect systems, as shown by the Rakaia Huts draft decision.
“Havelock North is an example, many people got sick, some people died. We do not want that happening in our community at all.”
Epiha said as well as negative reports on the smell and taste of chlorine and reports on hair and skin reactions from constituents, businesses were facing the increased costs of putting in filters to protect the taste of beverages.
However, given the level of risk it was the right thing to continue with temporary chlorination.
“But I do urge staff to give me surety . . . that you will work towards the original intent which was chlorination is a last resort.”
Lyall did not speak to the topic at the meeting, but said after the meeting: “I voted against the notice of motion because I believe it was politically motivated and not based on the risks associated with it. As previously stated, we cannot put staff and contractors at risk of prosecution with decisions we make.”
Broughton said the Rakaia Huts draft decision did not mean the district council would no longer strive to get supplies up to exemption standard.
“Two weeks ago there was a report that indicated about a quarter of a million dollars might be required to turn chlorine on and off. I don’t think it’s about the amount of money that is, it’s more about spending that money on a process, that might allow us to turn chlorine off permanently.”
- Against temporary chlorination
Miller said the way the district council had set up itself up to manage risk was exemplary, and it exercised due diligence in supplying safe water.
“We have had incursions in the past, but we have identified the risks, we have drilled new deep water source bores where required, installed additional filtration. I am hearing from our communities they would rather have a boil water notice on a semi-regular basis than have chlorination.”
Mundt argued chlorine was a greater health risk than contamination.
She read letters from people in the district complaining about health effects, from exacerbating skin disorders to affecting sleep apnoea machines, while also claiming studies showed chlorine had toxic byproducts.
“The decision we are making today is focussed on the health implications of our community, rather than a legal matter.”
Gliddon said the risk to some supplies was relatively low, continued rigorous water testing would limit the legal risk to staff while exemptions were processed.
“I know residents would prefer a boil water notice or temporary dose of chlorine while an event is managed. If we adopt a strict testing policy, along the lines of what will have to happen once exemptions are granted, I’m confident we can deliver safe water.”
Hasson said the Rakaia Huts draft decision raised questions as to how far the district council had to go to get exemptions.
“How do we actually get back to not having to chlorinate our water, how do we get back to having an outcome of improving our environment. Because ‘She’ll be right, I will just chlorinate everything’ – that is not a good outcome for the environment.”