16 Oct 2018

An external review into the events leading up to the loss of the secure status for Christchurch’s water supply has identified issues with Christchurch City Council’s handling of the situation.

The review was commissioned by Christchurch City Council Chief Executive Dr Karleen Edwards and conducted by former assistant auditor-general Bruce Robertson to understand why Christchurch had lost secure status and how it had happened without prior warning.

Read the Water Review findings

Dr Edwards says steps have been taken to address the issues raised in the review and a $35 million well head improvement programme is under way.

"Our key objective is to be able to return to supplying unchlorinated water to our community, which is why we have put in place a comprehensive water supply improvement programme ahead of the report being received.

“We’ve been keeping Mr Robertson informed of the steps we have taken and he has acknowledged the progress that we’ve made. Many of his other recommendations have already been addressed,’’ Dr Edwards says.

In his review Mr Robertson acknowledges the Havelock North drinking water contamination incident in 2016, which resulted in a widespread gastroenteritis outbreak, led to more rigorous assessment processes being applied by external assessors to the drinking water standards.

The review identifies a number of issues within the Council’s Three Waters Unit, including:

  • A lack of a cohesive system to manage compliance with all three criteria required for bore water security. The Three Waters Unit over-relied on one of the criteria requiring E.coli to be absent from the water. It needed to provide more reporting on the other two which are security of the water source and whether it is possible for contaminants to enter the water supply through the well heads.
  • A general failure to escalate the developing issue with the below-ground well heads.

“The review says it is unlikely we could have prevented the loss of secure bore status, and the subsequent temporary chlorination of our water, even if we had got this right in the second half of 2017,’’ Dr Edwards says.

“These issues should have been raised with the Council’s executive leadership team and with elected members from the middle of last year when it became apparent that the secure status was at risk.

“If that had happened, we could have managed the issues much better as they unfolded.

"We could have taken time to explain everything to our community so they could better understand the choices and decisions that needed to be made. I’m sorry we did not do that,’’ Dr Edwards says.

That status was withdrawn on 22 December 2017 because the Drinking Water Assessor was not satisfied the below-ground well heads provided enough protection for the water supply to be considered secure.

Dr Edwards says the Three Waters Unit now has systems and processes in place to ensure it can manage and monitor compliance with all three Drinking Water Standards criteria.

“We have put in place a comprehensive water supply improvement programme, with dedicated resources, that is aimed at upgrading our well heads as quickly as possible and looking for alternative ways of ensuring we can remove the chlorination within the deadline.

"We will keep the public informed,'' Dr Edwards says.

August 2016

A widespread outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North is traced back to E.coli in the water supply. The Government initiates an inquiry.

May 2017

The Havelock North Water Inquiry Stage 1 report is released. It draws attention to the risk of contaminants entering bore water through below-ground well heads.

June 2017

Christchurch City Council’s Three Waters Unit asks maintenance contractor Citycare to look into the condition of the city’s below-ground well heads.

Later that month it receives a report from Pattle Delamore Partners which shows the well heads do not meet the second of the three criteria required under the Drinking Water Standards. That criteria relates to ensuring contaminants cannot enter the water supply through the well heads.

July to November 2017

The Three Waters Unit works with Citycare on implementing a work programme for improving the security of the below-ground well heads.

November 2017

Beca begins the next round of scheduled well head security assessments. It advises the Three Waters Unit that its fieldwork indicates “immediate public health risks’’ at some boreheads and recommends immediate remedial action, which was undertaken.

22 December 2017

The Drinking Water Assessor and the Ministry of Health advise the Council the security status for Christchurch and Brooklands/Kaianga water supplies will be changed from provisionally secure to unsecure.

January 2018

The Council makes the decision to temporarily chlorinate Christchurch’s water supply for up to 12 months while work is fast-tracked to make the below-ground well heads secure.

March to May 2018

Temporary chlorination of Christchurch’s water supply begins.