Regulator doesn't know size of protozoa compliance problem

by Kim Bowden - Oct 03, 2023

Taumata Arowai has provided follow-up comment on the contents of this story, and it can be read here: Water regulator expects to release details on protozoa con-compliance tomorrow

The new national water regulator does not know how many water supplies across the country do not have adequate protection from protozoa like cryptosporidium, as authorities are no closer to finding a source of a cryptosporidiosis outbreak in Queenstown.

Queenstown residents and ratepayers have received something of a crash course on Taumata Arowai's rules in recent weeks, after the regulator slapped a compliance order on the Queenstown Lakes District Council's Two Mile water treatment plant.

Until the council takes steps to protect the water from protozoa contamination, tap water must be boiled for at least a minute to ensure it is safe to drink, use in food preparation or for cleaning teeth, or given to pets.

Information released to Crux under the Official Information Act suggests Taumata Arowai is scrambling to know exactly how many other water supplies may also be non-compliant.

QLDC property and infrastructure boss Tony Avery has told Crux six - that is more than half - of his district's water supplies do not have protozoa barriers or treatment.

But when Crux asked Taumata Arowai if the council was an outlier when it came to compliance, there was no clear answer.

"We are compiling information from our online supply registration system, Hinekōrako, and asking suppliers to confirm that it is accurate and up to date. We will then make this information publicly available and will let you know once that has occurred.

"In the meantime, this aspect of your request is declined under section 18(d) of the OIA, on the basis that the information requested will soon be publicly available."

Taumata Arowai has confirmed the compliance order served on the QLDC is the first it has dished out, and "in light of the risks highlighted by the cryptosporidiosis outbreak in Queenstown" it is checking paperwork supplied by other local authorities around the country that detail how risks are managed at each location.

"While Taumata Arowai recognises solutions can take time to fund and implement, we are prepared to use the enforcement tools available to us under the Act where that is necessary to ensure suppliers are responding appropriately to their legal duties."

During a media standup in response to the order, Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Glyn Lewers said it felt the new regulator was "excuse the pun, dipping their toe into the water", figuring out how to best deal with obvious non-compliance.

For now, QLDC, with its outbreak of cryptosporidium infections, appears to be a test case.

"I've got no complaints about that, we've got a compliance order, and we'll deal with it. We just have to do what they've asked," the mayor said.

On Friday, his council delivered a plan of attack to meet compliance, which involves an interim solution that is still months away.

The total cost to ratepayers remains unknown, but is likely to be tens of millions of dollars.

At least 60 cases of cryptosporidiosis have been confirmed locally, with hundreds more instances of infection on top of that official number likely in the community.

Te Whatu Ora Health NZ says the illness is often waterborne, but can also spread from person to person.

In a statement today, the authority says a source of infection has yet to be identified in Queenstown, but investigations are ongoing.

Water testing to date has not detected any contamination, but cryptosporidium is notoriously difficult to pinpoint, so even a negative test cannot rule out the possibility of it.

People who have tested positive for the illness have been interviewed in an attempt to flag any potential links, such as location or food or beverages, and preliminary results are expected in the coming days.

"We are working closely with Queenstown Lakes District Council, Taumata Arowai and the Ministry of Primary Industries to ensure all possibilities are being considered," a spokesperson says.

Read more: Thursday flagged for partial lifting of boil water notice 


Advertise with Crux Advertise with Crux