By BERNARD ORSMAN
Treated water from the murky Waikato River has been declared safe to drink and will be flowing from Auckland taps in two weeks.
Two public health guardians declared yesterday that the river water, which is filtered and treated, was safe for public drinking.
Dr Virginia Hope and Dr David Sinclair, Auckland medical officers of health, said tests showed the water met drinking water standards and would be at least as good as that now supplied to Aucklanders.
To back their scientific claims, they each drank a glass of the crystal clear water on the banks of the Waikato near Tuakau - the source of Auckland's new water supply.
Over the next 10 days to two weeks, the treated water will begin its journey from Tuakau 38km to Auckland, where it will be mixed with local water and start flowing to households.
The Waikato River will contribute up to 50 million litres of the 332 million litres of water used in Auckland each day - the equivalent of one glass in seven.
The $155 million pipeline project is the region's answer to public concern about the adequacy of water supplies after the 1994 drought.
Politicians agreed to introduce a system to meet a 200-year-drought security standard.
The Waikato River was chosen from 96 options, including taking water from under Rangitoto Island.
After taking samples of treated and untreated water at the Tuakau treatment plant and testing them for a range of the bacteria, viruses and chemicals specified in the drinking water standards, the public health service concluded that the plant was able to provide safe, high-quality water to Auckland.
The service also reviewed - and passed - tests on the water by Environment Waikato and the owner of the treatment plant, Watercare Services. The plant management plans and emergency-response plans were reviewed and found to be satisfactory.
Watercare chief executive Mark Ford said Aucklanders could have complete confidence they were getting top-quality drinking water because the Tuakau treatment plant used the most sophisticated technology in Australasia. It was also among the best in the world.
The water goes through four stages, including membrane filtration to remove bacteria, most viruses and the cysts of giardia and cryptosporidium.
Not everyone in Auckland is happy with Waikato water. Waitakere City Council, North Shore City Council and Rodney District Council have passed symbolic resolutions calling on Watercare Services to supply "best raw water first" for drinking.
Dr Joel Cayford, a North Shore City councillor and longtime opponent of the pipeline for general use, said treating raw Waikato water when much cleaner sources existed in the protected Auckland catchments was irrational at best and irresponsible at worst.
"Is it safer to take water from a mountain lake or a farm drain? Most people would say take it from the mountain lake."