Like most people in Hawke’s Bay I feel very sorry about what’s happened in Havelock North. However, the longer it takes for authorities to pin down the source of the contamination of the Havelock North water supply, the more the public speculates. The longer that we are left to speculate the less likely we are to believe the authorities when a cause comes to light, if ever.
This is not helped by outrageous statements from the Regional Council clearing the Tukituki as a source of the contamination. Council’s Head of Resource Consenting has acknowledged that the wording of Monday’s press release was unfortunate. I can only assume that by this statement that he agrees with scientists such as Gil Zemansky that the statement from the Regional Council was misleading.
To my mind this raises a number of questions that came out of the presentation to the council on the reasons why the Tukituki was not the source of contamination. Firstly, the 1st round of sampling was not taken until Monday 16th August. This was 3 days after the contamination had first become public knowledge. So just how relevant were the samples? The second is that Dr Swabey admitted that water from the Tukituki could reach the Brookfield Road bores within several weeks, or months, or many months. Because he was unable to give a definitive answer clearly the Regional Council has no idea how long it takes water to flow from the Tukituki to Brookfield Road. What we do know is that it takes just 24 hours for water to flow a similar distance through other parts of the Heretaunga aquifer. So how confident can we be that sufficient time had passed for any campylobacter to die off naturally? Finally Dr Swabey was not concerned about E’Coli levels in the Tukituki because readings were within limits for recreational water use. Lets not forget that recreational water use means only safe for wading. Hardly a confidence boosting indicator test for the safety of potable water.
One cannot help but think the Regional Council is attempting to duck it’s responsibilities. After all this was the organisation that argued fiercely to allow unlimited nitrates in the Tukituki River. Who can forget the battle over the ‘one nutrient plan’. This was also the organisation who argued that having no degradation of existing groundwater quality was only “aspirational”. And where do you think aspiration has lead us? My guess is that the people of Havelock North don’t want aspiration, they want absolutes.
The Environment Court was quite clear in it’s decision on Plan Change 5. “It is a function of every Regional Council to control the use of land to maintain and enhance the quality of water in water bodies – ie including water in aquifers, and to control the discharges of contaminants into water (again including water in aquifers). This function is not optional – it is something a regional council is required to do, whether it be difficult or easy”
So no ifs buts or maybes. It is a requirement. It’s hard to imagine how allowing the source of Havelock North’s water supply to become contaminated with campylobacter is maintaining and enhancing water quality. It’s also hard to imagine how adding 6,000 ha of dairying to the Ruataniwha Basin is going to maintain and enhance water quality in the Tukituki River. Especially when the HBRIC believes it doesn’t need to begin complying with the requirements of Plan Change 6 until 2030.
I suppose we could say that the contamination of the Havelock North water supply was going to happen sooner or later given our regulators record. It’s why many citizens of Hawke’s Bay have battled the Regional Council over many years. There are those amongst us who could see this happening. Yet we have been treated like chicken little. Perhaps those who continually throw out clichés such as ‘green taliban’ or ‘anti progress’ need to think again. Perhaps it’s time to take everyone’s point of view seriously.
So I hope that the government instigated inquiry into the contamination of the Havelock North water supply is as far reaching as has been implied. I’m sure it will do a great job at looking at the fundamental questions such as was the response appropriate and so on. I agree that these are questions we deserve an answer to. However one of the issues it should be looking into, and I very much doubt that it will, is the culture which seems to place water quality at a lower priority than economic activity. As we’ve found out over recent weeks perhaps that’s just a too short sighted way to look at the world. Whilst a healthy economy is important, frankly we can’t drink money.