Omanaia one step closer to clean water after 38 years of lobbying

By Dean Nathan

The Omanaia community has lobbied for 38 years to have a clean water supply.  Today they came one step closer to a long held aspiration when the matter came before the Far North District Council for the second time in recent years.   

Omanaia resident Dallas Williams showed Te Kaea the clearly visible difference in quality and discolouration between a glass of water from her own home and the supply to the Rawene community. 

Williams says, "This is the issue. Here we have people pay water rates and they get this water.  In Omanaia we too pay rates and we get this water.  This is from our house this morning."

She was understandably emotional that an elder from her community was admitted to hospital only last night after becoming ill from drinking water from the Petaka spring in Omanaia where the council gets its main water supply. 

"Our people are getting sick all the time.  They get giardia and end up with a crook stomach, which is especially taxing on the young ones and the elderly who have a low immunity.  They get taken to hospital in Rawene and the serious cases go to Whangarei hospital regularly," says Williams.

It's the second time this matter has gone right through the council process after the recommendation 5 years ago to build a water treatment plant at Omanaia was not supported.

Dallas says, "Omanaia is the permanent Havelock North.  Everybody has heard about the Havelock North situation.  We watched that and thought, that's us every year every day."

Representing the Kaikohe-Hokianga Ward, councillor Sally Macauley addressed council. She said, "I'm so pleased you are now going to have good potable water.  There will be no stomach bugs around and I know Omanaia have suffered some ill health over the years." 

To date, the Omanaia community has had a permanent boil water notice over them.  Dallas says it's been a ploy used by the council to get around its obligations to her people. 

"The justification is affordability.  Their historic records show how they got around building the treatment halfway along the line.  In the first place, it was categorising the people of Omanaia as stock connections.  Animals, therefore not needing to be treated water.  They've since apologised for that.  They acknowledged that was wrong but they still haven't resolved the problem."

It's also the second time the Ministry of Health has acknowledged this serious health risk with an unprecedented subsidy of $1.97 million towards the building of a water treatment plant in Omanaia to serve both communities.  And despite serious concerns and a petition by Rawene residents over the effects of the proposal on the quantum of rates, the recommendation to build the treatment station was supported by all councillors.

A teary eyed Dallas said the decision brought with it sheer relief. 

"The first thought I had is of all the people who have passed away already who've been fighting for this for 37 years.  This will be the 38th year.  Many good people have tried to get the Far North District Council and elected representatives to value us the same as they value other people, and today was a fantastic step forward.  I just feel very very relieved."

The decision means a healthy future for the people of Omanaia.