Once a month, Napier woman Kelly Lash's water starts running a murky brown.

The Greenmeadows resident says it's almost like clockwork. On a Sunday evening, every four weeks, she knows not to turn on her taps.

"My cats won't even drink the water out of the tap, they'd rather go outside and drink out of the scummy birdbath than drink what's coming out of the tap."

She said she no longer trusts Napier's water, even when it appears clean, and has been buying bottled water since chlorine was introduced to the water.

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It's an expense which, as a solo mother, she could do without.

Lash is just one of many residents across Napier who claim they are struggling to access "clean" drinking water.

For months, local social media groups have been full of pictures of baths, sinks and buckets filled with the dirty water.

The Napier City Council has been spending, on average, close to $4000 a month since May 2017 flushing the pipes to help rectify the problem.

Just a selection of pictures posting on social media, detailing the water Napier residents are currently struggling with. Photo / Supplied
Just a selection of pictures posting on social media, detailing the water Napier residents are currently struggling with. Photo / Supplied

It's a water crisis of a different, less sinister, kind to the one that unfolded down the road in Havelock North in 2016.

But in many ways, one caused the other.

THE GRIME SHAKEN FREE
The substance that turns Napier's water brown is biofilm. It's a build-up of organic and inorganic, living and dead material which builds up in pipes.

Napier didn't start chlorinating its water directly after the Havelock North crisis, where 5500 people fell ill with campylobacteriosis.

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But after a scare when above normal levels of E. coli were found in Napier's water in May 2017, Napier City Council decided it could no longer not chlorinate.

The problem for Napier has been the effect on its 484km of pipes across the city. Chlorine can react with the biofilm, essentially shaking it loose, and sending it out the taps.

The four most affected suburbs are Tamatea, Greenmeadows, Pirimai and Onekawa, according to Napier City Council.

Director of infrastructure Jon Kingsford said originally council hoped the chlorination, and the dirty water, would be temporary.

But after the release of the Havelock North Inquiry, where the Director-General of Health and Hawke's Bay District Health Board said the risk of not chlorinating the water was too great to the public, the decision was made to make chlorination permanent.

The inquiry also recommended more work to Napier's water infrastructure. Most of its bores weren't up to the new standard needed.

Kelly Lash with her daughters Samara and Bella, who as a family has been struggling to access clean drinking water in Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor
Kelly Lash with her daughters Samara and Bella, who as a family has been struggling to access clean drinking water in Napier. Photo / Paul Taylor

Some of its bore heads were still sitting above ground, which means contaminants could enter them during major weather events, the very cause of the Havelock North crisis.

Seven of Napier's 10 bores have now been upgraded - the remaining three will either be replaced or retired due to being in unsafe locations.

But every time they do work on the bores, the city's dirty water problems will only become exacerbated.

Kingsford said that's because taking the bores on and offline forces a change in the direction the water flows, which can then shake loose the build-up of biofilm.

Strangely, Napier's pipes are comparatively young compared with the rest of New Zealand, on average only 37 years old.

Kingsford said the council had an extensive programme of work to try to solve the city's water woes, which they were now hoping to bring forward.

"We are essentially changing the way our network functions, which will assist with reducing dirty water incidents and will allow for more predictable network operation.

"Some of the upcoming projects involve creating new bore fields, associated water treatment plants and developing dedicated pumping mains to supply our service reservoirs."

An example of the water residents in Napier have been dealing with since work on the city's water infrastructure began. Photo / Supplied
An example of the water residents in Napier have been dealing with since work on the city's water infrastructure began. Photo / Supplied

Water projects are costing the city $20 million over the next few years, including projects included in the long-term plan and new projects.

The timing of the projects will be confirmed when the city's 2019/2020 budget is adopted in June.

There is no plan to remove chlorine from the water at this stage.

IS IT SAFE TO DRINK? WHY WOULD YOU, DOCTORS SAY
A Napier City Council spokesperson says the water is free from harmful pathogens and bacteria, and despite the discolouration, it does not pose a risk to public health.

Hawke's Bay District Health Board Medical Officer of Health Dr Nicholas Jones says people should flush their taps if their water is discoloured.

Water discolouration can be associated with high levels of minerals such as manganese or iron, Jones says.

This can cause health issues over a long period of time, he said.

"However high levels of these minerals affect the taste of the water and it is therefore unlikely someone would consume enough to pose a health risk."

The HBDHB supports Napier's chlorination decision. But not every council deems chlorination necessary however.

In Christchurch the council has been removing chlorine from the water after a rash of complaints.

Christchurch City Council's water supply improvement manager, Helen Beaumont, said the city did not have a major issue with biofilm coming out in the taps, as Napier did, but did struggle with odour and bad taste when they introduced chlorine.

An example of the water residents in Napier have been dealing with since work on the city's water infrastructure began. Photo / Supplied
An example of the water residents in Napier have been dealing with since work on the city's water infrastructure began. Photo / Supplied

She said traditionally, Christchurch had not chlorinated its water supply, but lost water security status in their bores after an investigation into the city's wells following the Havelock North Inquiry.

The council is now in the process of securing all the bores, and as each one is secured, chlorine is removed.

The deadline for the project is May, because that is when council has approved temporary chlorination until.

However there are a few bore heads which may not be completed in time, and council may extend chlorination on those bore heads until this can be completed.

The entire project is costing about $35 million. The city is under water restrictions to speed up the process.

In Hastings, work being done after the Havelock North Inquiry includes a new Hastings to Havelock North water main, an upgraded bore and new water treatment facility in Flaxmere, upgrades to small communities' water supplies, and a new booster pump station for the Hastings to Havelock North water main.

The bores on Brookvale Road which became contaminated and caused 5500 people in Havelock North to fall sick. They have been decommissioned. Photo / File
The bores on Brookvale Road which became contaminated and caused 5500 people in Havelock North to fall sick. They have been decommissioned. Photo / File

A spokesperson for Hastings District Council said it had issues with biofilm for the first three months it chlorinated the water, but the problem had since balanced out.

She said Hastings may also be dosing at a different level to Napier, which is a possible explanation as to why biofilm may be more of an issue in Napier.

WILL THE GOVERNMENT STEP IN?
Hanging over all of this work is the possibility councils' mandate to provide safe drinking water to their communities could be taken over by the Government.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said it is a question she was working through with local councils.

She said the cost of upgraded infrastructure, and the subsequent burden, was sometimes too onerous for councils and ratepayers alone.

"We've looked at alternative options, we are continuing to refine what alternative options could look like.

"Cost is a big driver of how fast these upgrades can happen."

She said it was important for councils to be responsive to the expectations of ratepayers.

"Everybody, no matter where they live, should have access to clean, safe drinking water."

For her part, Lash wants to see chlorine removed from the water.

"If Christchurch can do it, why can't we?"

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