The true cost of last year’s water crisis to the 5,800 plus Havelock North households affected by the campylobacter outbreak was almost $11.7 million a report has revealed.
The report Drinking Water Supply Upgrades, authored by Brent Chamberlin says the campylobacter outbreak on average cost each household around $2,000.
“In August 2016, the Havelock North water supply became contaminated with Campylobacter, with an estimated 5,200 residents becoming sick,” he says.
“It has been conservatively estimated that this incident has cost the wider community $11.7m when you take into account time off work, lost productivity, and medical costs.” He came to this conclusion by drawing comparisons with a 1998 study completed on a Wellington council.
“In [a] New Zealand study, the Wellington Regional Council has estimated the cost of waterborne illness per affected household to be $5,000,” he says.
“[This is] based on a household size of three persons and a period of illness of 2.5 weeks.”
Using this study Chamberlin took the length of illness as one week on average, as opposed to 2.5 weeks used in the WRC 1998 study, and applied this to the 5,866 connections to the Havelock North water supply as of last August, which led him to the $11m plus figure.
Looking at the cost to councils, country wide, for failing to provide safe drinking water Chamberlin cites a Law and Economic Consulting Group cost benefit analysis of New Zealand’s networked drinking water.
This report suggests compliance with bacteriological standards brings an economic benefit to New Zealand of $105m which could be increased to $134m if compliance with both bacteriological and protozoal determinands were achieved.
Referencing an Outcome Management Services Ltd report titled Assistance Options for Safer Drinking Water Systems: Report to the Ministry of Health, Chamberlin says OMS estimate the direct annual benefit of illness avoidance by controlling waterborne disease in New Zealand at $13m to $37m a year.
Returning to the Havelock North crisis and the investigation into its cause, Chamberlin says this led to detailed scientific investigation being undertaken and a government water inquiry into the matter.
“The outcomes of which indicates that the Te Mata - Tukituki Aquifer can no longer be considered a secure source with water from the Mangateretere Pond being able to be drawn into the aquifer and the intake for [Brookvale] Bore 1,” he says.
“This incident has meant that the Brookvale source supply is now deemed to be non-secure requiring significant treatment to be installed to treat Bore 3 which is furthest from the Mangateretere Pond.”
For this reason, Hastings council is looking at spending $12m over the course of the 2017-18 financial year so staff can better manage the district’s water supply.
Chief executive Ross McLeod told councillors earlier this month that the management of the district’s water supply was probably the biggest pressure on the council’s budget.
“The Council approach to water supply management has changed dramatically in the last twelve months,” he said.
“The aquifer contamination around the Brookvale number one bore that led to the Havelock North Gastro Outbreak has had a significant impact, taking two bores out of operation, and calling into question the historically favoured approach of providing untreated water.
“Alongside this age testing results on aquifer water from across the water supply network show younger water in parts of the groundwater system.”
McLeod told councillors that as a result this points to potential changes in the aquifer system and the possible need to treat some or all of the water sources across the urban water supply network.
He said the council is awaiting the outcomes of the recent Government Inquiry [a report from which is due out at the end of this month] into the Havelock North drinking water before finally determining the best options for the communities’ water supplies in the future.
“However, budget provision has been made to enable swift implementation of decisions,” he said.