Mandatory water treatment backed

A new report has backed mandatory treatment of New Zealand's water supply. Photo: Shane Cowlishaw.

A damning report into the quality of New Zealand’s drinking water has recommended universal treatment of the country’s water supply, saying it “firmly and unequivocally” supports a change to the law.

The government inquiry has also recommended the creation of an independent drinking water regulator to monitor supplies around the country and crack down on offenders.

The previous government launched the two-stage inquiry in September 2016, following an outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North linked to contaminated drinking water which made over 5000 people sick.

The second stage of the report, released on Wednesday, focuses on how to avoid a repeat in other parts of the country and whether changes are needed to drinking water standards.

It highlights “a widespread systemic failure among water suppliers to meet the high standards required for the supply of safe drinking water to the country”, with 20 per cent of Kiwis supplied water that was not “demonstrably safe” to drink.

The water supply industry had shown it was not capable of improving when it did not meet the standards, while the Ministry of Health had failed to show “an ability to call the industry to account”.

The report says treatment of drinking water should be mandatory, dismissing arguments about the “purity” of some untreated water supplies.

However, it says exemptions should be possible in “very limited circumstances”, where a supplier could conclusively prove the safety of the water supply.

In a statement accompanying the report, Attorney-General David Parker said it made “for sobering reading”.

“The report highlights the quality of drinking water in New Zealand is often inadequate, and that regulation and enforcement have been poor. We must do better.”

Parker said the Government had written to mayors and district health boards, asking them to check their water supplies met standards given “significant non-compliance” identified in the report.

Health Minister David Clark would brief Cabinet before Christmas on the short- and long-term changes that could be necessary, he said.