Water  |  25 Feb 2021

Christchurch City Council is challenging aspects of a proposed new law that could result in all reticulated water supplies having to be chemically disinfected.

In a submission on the Water Services Bill, the Council says it supports the general thrust of the bill and thinks that it will improve the safety of drinking water supplies in New Zealand.

However, it is concerned about the Bill’s focus on a requirement for residual disinfection for any drinking water supplies that include reticulation, rather than a risk-based approach for public health outcomes.

“We are fortunate in Christchurch to have high quality groundwater as the drinking water source for the majority of our residents.

“We believe that our risk management approach can enable us to provide safe drinking water to our residents and that, for those supplies sourced by groundwater, we can provide safe drinking water without the need for continual and regular residual disinfection,’’ the Council’s submission says.

The Water Services Bill, which was introduced into Parliament last year, outlines the functions and powers of Taumata Arowai, the new water services regulator.

It also sets out the duties, obligations and functions of drinking water suppliers and local government. Under the Bill:

  • Drinking water suppliers must have drinking water safety plans that take a multi-barrier approach to drinking water safety.
  • Drinking water suppliers whose supplies are reticulated must have water safety plans that provide for residual disinfection. Residual disinfection is not defined in the Bill but is commonly understood to refer to chlorination or similar chemical disinfection.

The Council notes in its submission that while the Bill gives Taumata Arowai the authority to grant an exemption to the use of residual disinfection, it is silent on the criteria that would be used to decide whether such an exemption should be granted.

It is seeking more clarity on the requirements for exemption as it plans to apply for one.

It is also pushing for a robust process to be put in place to deal with applications for exemptions.

As it stands, the only redress for an unsuccessful applicant is to seek an internal review of Taumata Arowai’s decision to refuse to grant an exemption.

“The Council’s concern is that the only opportunity available to an application to seek redress in respect of an internal review is to go through the court system. The Council believes that is unfair and suggests that if Taumata Arowai is to be given the authority to judge its own decisions then, to ensure some accountability, an independent review process should be established,’’ the Council’s submission says.

Read the full Council submission on the Water Services Bill.