Kawerau residents told to boil drinking water after health concerns

By Mahina Hurkmans

The council is warning residents of Kawerau to boil their water before drinking, as high levels of E. coli were found in their regular water tests. 

A warning was put in place in the town but the source of the issue has not yet been found.

Kawerau District Council chief executive Russell George says, "We are strongly recommending that the community continue to boil their water until advised otherwise.

"We don't know (the cause) yet, we are still working through that and staff will be working with the drinking water assessor to work through that. It could have been a backflow breach, it could be a sampling error, it could be a testing error, we don't know at this stage." 

On Saturday the council issued a boil water notice after a routine check showed that the E. coli levels have risen from zero to two hundred. 

"We had a routine test done on the 2nd of January, those results came back Saturday morning very high. They had been reading zero prior to that so, in consultation with the drinking water assessor and the medical officer of health, it was decided to put out a boil water notice," George says. 

But Kawerau local Michael Burrell says these issues have been ongoing and the council need to spend money to fix the problem so it does not affect future generations. 

"The core issues are our infrastructure, our tank is old, our piping is failing," Burrell says. 

Although the council has put a notice in place, some are still not phased about drinking the water.

"We need to spend some money, (an) upgrade of infrastructure will be a good start," he says.

George says they are working on the issue.

"Council have plans to spend more money on infrastructure. We don't know at this stage whether this was because of the infrastructure but we are working through our annual plan and planning on spending more money. We have been doing more work on the reservoirs and we are just working through now a replacement programme for the pipes," he says.

Because of the notice, the community has come to New World Kawerau to buy water for their families and households, and some donations have come from New World Whakatāne to help the community.

"We'd encourage people to talk to their neighbours, talk to people in their street just to let them know in case they haven't heard the message," George says.

Burrell says the council needs to be mindful about ensuring the problem is fixed once and for all.

"Spend the money, KDC has a swag of money in the bank. They boast about being the richest council in the North Island and having no debt. Show me, show me how you've done it. Money, spend it, it's our money, it's ratepayers money," Burrell says.

"What am I going to leave my kids? More dirty water, more broken tanks and pipes? Nah, we don't want that."

George says the council will be guided by further tests and advice from the Ministry of Health.

"So once we got that notice, we've taken another sample and we'll do samples over the next three days. If they all come back clear, then the Ministry of Health will make a decision on the boiled water notice. The first one has come back and that was clear."

If residents boil the water it is safe to drink.