When you buy a faulty product you take it back and ask for a refund or a replacement.

Unfortunately in the case of water no one owns it and we are all reliant on the regional council to act as its guardian and issue the appropriate resource consents like they do for the water bottling plants and all other users.

They are also required to carry out regular checks to ensure compliance and quality control.

The results of the Government Inquiry into the Havelock North Water Contamination were announced last Wednesday and when I read Saturday's edition of HB Today there was still no sign of any form of an apology from the HB Regional Council for its failings.

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To quote the chairman, HB Regional Council has "spent millions protecting the aquifer and he was totally confident in the Heretaunga aquifer being safe for drinking". After reading the 230 page plus findings of the Government inquiry - I totally disagree.

If it is safe for drinking then why did the inquiry find that the regional council failed to meet its responsibilities, as set out in the Resource Management Act 1991 to act as guardian of the aquifer under the Heretaunga Plains.

Protection of the water source, in this case the aquifer, was the first and a critical step in the multi-barrier approach to ensuring safe drinking water.

In layman's terms the HBRC was unaware that trails of animal sewerage were entering the aquifer via ponding and a compromised aquitard (confining layer) from the Mangateretere stream and uncapped and disused bores within close proximity of the bores.

In heavy rainfall the corresponding surface water gathered up sheep faeces and this flowed into the aquifer down the upcapped bores and the thin aquitard. This all occurs prior to the Hastings District Council accessing the water.

The HB Regional Council was actually responsible for supplying contaminated water. One only has to look at the condition of other waterways under its control like the Tukituki River, and Lake Tutira, to see further examples of neglect.

Since the water crisis, testing has been taking place on a daily basis and this has resulted in other bores also showing that the supply of water has been compromised.

The Portsmouth and Wilson Rd bores in Flaxmere where the aquifer is fed from the Ngaruroro River have shown signs of E. coli. This means that this aquifer is no longer confined and dirty new water is entering.

Dirty water contains nitrates, which are the result of the intensification of mainly dairying within the river catchment. This is all going to cost the ratepayers millions to rectify with the installation of UV plants and the continued chlorination that will be required.

The inquiry also pointed out that the HB Regional Council's decision to prosecute the Hastings District council was ill advised and ought never have been launched. The approximately $450,000 of ratepayer's money would have been far better spent getting a better understanding of the status of the aquifers beneath the Heretaunga Plains.

Now it is asking for a 9.88 per cent rate increase to fast track environmental projects like this one.

The Hastings District Council has apologised for its failings in not recognising that the once pure water had been contaminated by new water and it had failed to treat the water adequately prior to supplying it to residents.

It has also outlined through the media and the annual plan consultation process what it has already done to fix the problem and what it plans to do in the future.

On the other hand the HB Regional Council:
1.Hasn't apologised to anyone.
2.Hasn't acknowledged its failures
3.Hasn't acknowledged that it has allowed new (dirty) water to enter the aquifer prior to anyone using it.
4.Hasn't informed anyone what it plans to do to remedy the situation.

Finally I want to point out that it is also accountable to its ratepayers and survives on the rates that are paid from the landowners across the region. One of the expectations that is placed on it is the protection of the aquifers to ensure it provides safe drinking water now and forever more.

I await its response with a great deal of interest, as no doubt many of you will.


Malcolm Dixon is a Hastings District Councillor.