Government is to pay 75 per cent of the cost of a new water scheme for rural Ōhakea residents whose water supply has been contaminated by firefighting chemicals.
Environment Minister David Parker made the announcement to Ōhakea residents on Monday evening .
The New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) has supplied them with safe drinking and stock water for two years, after their shallow groundwater and surface water showed low-level contamination by chemicals that are no longer used to fight fires at Ōhakea Air Force Base.
The contamination is by the group of chemical compounds known as per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. They are man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1950s, and have proved long-lasting in the environment.
The residents are to be provided with uncontaminated water from a deeper aquifer, piped to tanks on their properties. The estimated cost of the rural water scheme is $14.5 million.
Parker committed to paying $10.8 million of that, with Manawatū District Council to fund the rest. He thanked residents for their patience and said formal agreement will be reached early next year.
It will be followed by getting resource consents, then the start of construction.
The new scheme will supply the air force base and around 85 rural properties with reticulated clean drinking and stock water, instead of them relying on tanks and bores.
The chairman of the Ōhakea contaminated water committee, Andy Russell, has always said Government must provide the water supply. He was pleased with the announcement, but said there was still a lot of detail to work through.
"The residents feel a real sense of relief, but I doubt we will really believe it until the water arrives."
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Russell and Horizons Regional Council chief executive Michael McCartney both say Government must stay involved by designing and funding a programme to monitor the spread of contamination.
The residues are expected to keep moving south through ground and water for 50 to 100 years.
"Contamination events such as this not only create public health concerns, they can have long term social-economic impacts," McCartney said.
The Health Ministry says the residues pose no acute health risk, but their long-term effects are uncertain.