New Zealand drinking water supplies are still vulnerable says an ESR scientist involved in the investigation into the Havelock North water contamination.
Microbiologist Dr Brent Gilpin says while it is unlikely there will be an outbreak of waterborne illness on the scale of the 2016 Hawkes Bay event, there are still areas in New Zealand where there is a risk of contamination to drinking water.
Dr Gilpin and two other experts in water contamination are speaking at an ESR sponsored public event in Napier in this week to discuss ways to improve the quality and quantity of groundwater, and what has been learnt since widespread illness struck the Havelock North community in August 2016.
The contamination of the water supply, which caused illness to over 5,000 people, led to a government inquiry and a series of recommendations to better protect water supplies.
Dr Glipin says there has been a proactive response by water suppliers around the country, following that inquiry, with heightened awareness of the risks and greater investment by councils to further protect drinking water.
“Some water suppliers decided to chlorinate water supplies in direct response to the Havelock North event and to reduce their risk.”
But he says that there are likely to be ongoing contamination events in smaller communities where there are less resources, monitoring does not happen as often, and communities are less able to deal with contamination issues.
“Havelock was biggest waterborne Campylobacter outbreak in the world – so that doesn’t happen too often - but smaller scale events will continue to occur."
Dr Gilpin says the Havelock North contamination, which was linked to Campylobacter from livestock, was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be involved in investigating and responding to a large scale event. “I imagine it is the same for geologists following the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes - terrible events but scientifically very interesting and useful to study and and identify preventative actions.”
He says the event also reinforced how little scientists know about the movement of contamination in groundwater.
“We need to learn more about how pathogens can get into an aquifer and how those organisms move through the system. Hawkes Bay and Canterbury are two of the best studied areas but we live in a diverse landscape and it is important that we improve our understanding.”
Also presenting at the Napier event is is Tony Cussins, principal consultant and technical director at Tonkin and Taylor, and Dr Stephen Swabey, Manager of Environmental Science at Hawkes Bay Regional Council.
The event, which will be followed by a panel discussion, is taking place at 4.30pm on Wednesday 24 October at the East Pier Hotel, Ahuiri.
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