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Lake view . . . The Remarkables loom over the Queenstown suburb of Kelvin Heights and Lake Wakatipu's Frankton Arm last winter. As well as managing 12 water supplies in the district, the Queenstown Lakes District Council is part of a joint working group which includes a focus on making sure private and self-suppliers manage their obligations to the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards. PHOTO: GUY WILLIAMS

Queenstown Lakes District Council senior communications adviser Rebecca Pitts talks about drinking water in this week’s Protecting our Water column.

Supplying safe drinking water is an issue that generates significant debate, with strong views for and against various treatment methods.Safe drinking water is fundamental to ensuring public health. But who is responsible for providing it and making sure it is safe?

This column runs through how the Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) manages its water supplies and future plans for ensuring everyone in the district has access to safe drinking water.

The QLDC owns and manages water supplies which provide water to the main urban areas. Coming from 12 different raw water intakes located around the district (Two Mile, Kelvin Heights, Beacon Point, Western, Lake Hayes, Shotover Country, Glenorchy, Luggate, Arrowtown, Hawea, Wanaka Airport and Corebridge Downs), water from each of these sources is treated before being distributed to homes and businesses.

Supplying safe drinking water is an issue that generates significant debate, with strong views for and against various treatment methods.

In our district the minimum level of treatment is disinfection using chlorine. Chlorination is extremely effective as it provides a residual disinfection beyond the point of treatment – that means disinfection throughout the entire network. At some sites additional treatment is provided such as filtration, UV disinfection, and/or pH correction. The quality of the water is sampled frequently, both at the treatment plant and also from within the piped network.

In spite of this, a number of the QLDC-managed water supplies do not fully meet the requirements of the New Zealand Drinking Water Standards (NZDWS).

Planned upgrades to the district’s water infrastructure will see all supplies fully compliant with the standards within 10 years, as communicated via our 2018-28 Ten Year Plan, with a target to complete this work significantly sooner.

The council-managed water supplies are only part of the equation. There are hundreds of private water supplies across the district of varying sizes. For the larger private water supplies, the NZDWS is used as the benchmark for drinking-water quality. For private suppliers servicing small populations, and self-suppliers, the compliance requirements are less clear. However, what is very clear is that all water providers have a legal obligation to provide safe, potable water.

In the wake of the Havelock North water contamination event, in which more than 5000 people fell ill and three people died, central government has embarked on a review of the regulatory framework concerning drinking water, with significant changes on the horizon.

In light of this, the QLDC is contributing to a joint working group for drinking water made up of other local authorities, Otago Regional Council and representatives from the Ministry of Health.

One focus area of this group is to investigate how to achieve confidence in the water provided by private and self-supplies, and ensure the people who manage and own these schemes are aware of their obligations. The consequences of getting this wrong can have tragic consequences.

As part of this work, the QLDC will be making contact with all known private and self-suppliers to improve our understanding of these water schemes, and assist them with ensuring they take the necessary steps to guarantee their water is safe at all times.