When he first bought Water Testing Hawke's Bay in 2016, Alastair McSporran thought it would be easy to move it out of the old house in Stortford Lodge where it was based - but he was wrong.

The former owner of local ice cream company Rush Munro became a part-owner of the company and fitted out a new site in anticipation of the move.

"We took the business over at the beginning of August 2016 with the intention of moving the laboratory over to the new site.

"Two weeks later the Havelock water crisis occurred and the lab went from running four/five days a week to 7 days a week. It's been like that ever since."

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Alastair McSporran says Water Testing Hawke's Bay was so busy from the Havelock North water crisis the company had to duplicate its equipment and move to a new premises. Photo Patrick O'Sullivan
Alastair McSporran says Water Testing Hawke's Bay was so busy from the Havelock North water crisis the company had to duplicate its equipment and move to a new premises. Photo Patrick O'Sullivan

The water crisis was from campylobacter in the drinking water, infecting more than 5000 Havelock North residents and linked to several deaths.

Hastings and Napier councils had believed their water was pristine, from secure aquifers underground, so now water testing became top priority.

"We couldn't move the lab into the new building because the equipment was in use every day, so we got stuck for about a month running out of the old house.

"We had to get the owner, from whom we purchased the business, to stay on and there was only one other fulltime person.

"In the end we had to buy all new laboratory equipment so we could set the new lab up, so we could move over.

"It was all hands on deck the first month."

The business doubled in size within weeks and is now four times larger.

To prevent speed wobbles it turned to someone very familiar with the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak, former Hastings District Council deputy mayor Cynthia Bowers, now turned management consultant.

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"One of the first tasks that I undertook was to secure our work by contract for several of the councils that we were working for," she said.

"Then I went about structuring the business in a sound way: having good systems, making sure we had IANZ accreditation - which we need to have to work for our clients, making sure that we have the right people, the right equipment, the right facilities."

Water Testing Hawke's Bay has three arms to the business: water sample collection, water testing and referring samples to other laboratories for tests the company does not do.

"We were fortunate with Covid-19 that we were an essential business so we were able to keep operating right through," Bowers said.

"It has been a challenging situation for us. We needed to stock up significantly with the supplies that we were using in the laboratory.

"Many of those supplies come from overseas, so we had to ensure that we had continuity of supply which has meant that we had to invest in stock.

"It is probably causing a few cashflow issues currently.

"Being an essential business, we seem to have fallen through the cracks and we don't qualify for any of the government assistance that is offered.

"And so we just need to quietly work our way through that. Certainly it has not been easy for us and I guess I look at some of the businesses around town that have qualified for the wage subsidy or some of the other assistance. If only we could access that support it would make things a lot easier for us."

McSporran says the Havelock North campylobacter outbreak continues to be good for business.

It triggered a national review of water standards - The Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry - which recommended 62 actions which are steadily being implemented.

"In the new drinking water standards, any person that supplies water to someone else is a water supplier. So that could be a farmhouse with a farm worker," he said.

There are 14,000 water suppliers around New Zealand.

The company says it has ambitious growth plans, targeting the one council in Hawke's Bay it doesn't already service, and hopes to test stormwater and sewage for councils.

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