The Government has announced the details of an official inquiry into the Havelock North water contamination problem that resulted in about 4,500 cases of illness.

Attorney General Chris Finlayson said the inquiry will look at how the Havelock North water supply system became contaminated, whether any person or organisation was responsible, how it was addressed, how local and central government responded to the public health outbreak and how to reduce the risk of similar incidents in the future.

The water contamination in mid August resulted in a widespread outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North affecting an estimated 4,500 people mostly with campylobacter.

Testing revealed faecal contamination of the drinking water supply and residents were forced to boil all water.

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The introduction to the terms of reference for the inquiry say that New Zealanders expect their drinking water to be safe to consume.

"The Havelock North water contamination incident risks damaging public confidence in local drinking-water supplied."

The inquiry is empowered to look into the causes of contamination and whether any person or organisation was at fault or did not meet the standards required.

Its probe will include monitoring and steps taken by the Hastings District Council and Hawkes Bay DHB, and the wider regulatory regime around water.

It would also make recommendations on changes to testing, monitoring and management of drinking water supplies.

It will report back by March 2017. The Inquiry will be conducted by retired Court of Appeal judge Lyn Stevens QC, former Director-General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi and a local government and engineering expert, Anthony Wilson.