Much as I'd rather be talking about any of a dozen other things, here in Hawke's Bay it's impossible to avoid the seemingly endless crises we're having with water, in all its forms.

At base, the one common denominator underlying these problems is that, until now, we've taken water for granted.

Whether by failing to maintain and upgrade pumps and pipework, over-allocating surface and groundwater flows for farm irrigation, not caring about what we dump or allow to runoff into waterways or the ocean, or ignoring the long-term build-up of pollutants in our supposedly pristine aquifers, we simply haven't cared enough to ensure it stays fresh.

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We swallowed the Kiwi myth clean water was, and always, would be abundant.


So now, thanks to the Havelock North gastro outbreak and subsequent commission of inquiry – which doubtless has also taken note of Napier's multiple quality failures, not to mention Pahiatua and elsewhere – not only the Bay but all New Zealand's townships which have prided themselves on drawing untainted drinking water straight from the ground face the prospect of it forever being chlorinated.

Which, given the agrichemicals and animal faecal matter that continue blithely polluting the source, is a bit like slapping a sticking plaster on a festering pustule and expecting no one to notice the pong.

I'm betting that for liability reasons the chlorine regime will have to be applied to the "chemical free" communal outlets too – though at least they'll (presumably) be kept unfluoridated.

Like many others in Hastings, I've had one burst copper pipe and replaced the hot-water cylinder because the chlorine descaled my system, exposing its age-related flaws. Meanwhile, council workmen have made at least two repairs to the mains in my block alone.

Still, things could be worse. We could all live in Napier, where they've avoided spending $45 million (so a Local Government Commission report estimated) to properly maintain water and wastewater infrastructure.

No surprise then that this week, after just one hot day's demand on top of a paucity of rain, they basically ran out of water.

I'm deducting the tea-and coffee-coloured stuff dispensed in Greenmeadows and Westshore and Tamatea – not that the situation in Tamatea is new; the water there's been brown for weeks, and no one in the council seems concerned enough to fix it. Must be a poorer suburb.

Given some of Napier's supply pipes are so old they're iron, I imagine there's more such fun to come.

As for CHB, news the wastewater plants in Waipawa and Waipukurau are never likely to meet their consent conditions also did not surprise.

The ostensibly cheaper "floating wetland" system – which has had more attempted fixes than an Indian cricket match – is recognised as a failure and it may require treated sewage to be disposed to land to comply with the rules.

Which, if you'll recall, was the option the regional council preferred in the first place – they even bought forestry land for the purpose – but which then-mayor Peter Butler and his team thought they knew better about.

CHB residents who will wind up paying more than twice what they should have to get it right might consider Butler's comment on the failure – he called it "a shame" – just a tad underwhelming.

As for the "toxic soup" of micro-plastics and chemicals renowned presenter Sir David Attenborough says our oceans are rapidly becoming that hardly bears thinking about. So we don't, do we?

No, we just go on dumping. And that's the problem, same as for climate change: we don't act until it's unavoidable, and that's too late.

Note: a march for clean water starts at Clive Square at 3pm tomorrow.

• Bruce Bisset is a freelance writer and poet.
• Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's.