Hastings district councillors, mayor Sandra Hazlehurst and council staff got more than they bargained for from their first community drinking-water "pop-up box" outside the Clive Community Hall yesterday morning.

Seven such public information sessions are being held this week, pitched as an opportunity for people to ask questions about the district's drinking water.

Dressed in bright yellow T-shirts at the mobile information trailer, council representatives faced some angry citizens, who questioned everything from how former mayor Lawrence Yule and chief executive Ross McLeod had kept their jobs after the Havelock North water crisis, to why there was a need to chlorinate drinking water.

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Several those present were from Whakatu, where chlorine will be introduced to the water supply this month, with Te Awanga, Waipatu, Clive and Haumoana.

"You in the yellow T-shirts have failed - you say we can't let this happen again - that you are coming here to give us an education with your fullahs with university degrees, but where were you before Havelock North?" asked Tawhai Johnson from Whakatu and a founder of Te Roopu Kaitiaki o Te Wai Maori.

"We don't want chlorine - we have beautiful water - as Maori we are kaitiaki of the water - it's our birthright, but here we have the Pakeha machine taking over everything."

Others of the 20-strong crowd that gathered also said they did not want chlorine in the water and asked for that view to be listened to.

Aki Paipper said the situation was wider than chlorination, it was about the land use that was affecting the health of people and the water - both drinking water and that in the rivers.

Mr McLeod was present and explained that residual disinfectant, such as chlorine, was being strongly recommended by the Government, and was likely to become mandatory for drinking water networks throughout the country as a result of the Havelock North contamination.

"We do not have a choice, and as professionals we believe the risk is too high not to have chlorine in the water," he said.

Council representatives were also asked why public drinking-water networks were required to be chlorinated but not the water that was used by water-bottling companies.


It was explained that water-bottling companies did treat their water, with UV treatment, but chlorine was not required because they were extracting the water close to the source so there was minimal risk of pathogens entering the water through an extensive piping network, unlike public water supplies.

Information was also available from Water New Zealand to explain the water treatment process, and also how to improve the taste and smell of chlorinated water.

This included using filters and putting water in a jug in the fridge overnight, and it was noted that the strong odour and taste would decrease over time as the organic matter in the system that reacted with the chlorine disappeared.

More consultation will be held with the community from April 7, to get feedback on the council's long-term plan water strategy investment of up to $47.5 million over four years.

The locations and times for this week's pop-ups can be found on the Hastings District Council website.