Ross and Heather continue to discuss the case of the Havelock North New Zealand water contamination incident.
A webinar attendee’s question led Ross and Heather to discuss the importance of levels of service and public health.
The participant asked whether the water system at Havelock North was chlorinated, which Ross said that they wished it was.
Ross explains further:
There’s a couple of large systems in that particular area and another area in one of our major cities, where they’ve had such good groundwater for such a long time that the communities have decided that they don’t want chlorination. Our federal government hasn’t enforced it as a regulation.
There’s just a significant debate going on across New Zealand in our profession and with the regulators at the moment about whether there should be mandatory residuals. There used to be, sort of one of the things where people got a bit annoyed, people don’t like chemicals in the water supply, and those people are particularly vocal in the community.
And it’s just an extensive conversation around public health versus public preference shall we say.
In asset management, one of the things that you do is you sit down and work out the service levels.
So, for a water utility, you would go, yes we are going to provide safe water. We want to deliver, it tastes nice, we want to provide enough of it, a good quantity of it at the right pressure perhaps—those sorts of things.
But what we found out of that Havelock North Incident is that your number one service level is, don’t kill people. Provide safe water. The other service levels are secondary to that.
Back in New Zealand, I’m sure the case was in the 50s and 60s in the States as well, a public water engineer would be called a public health engineer. That was the focus. It was getting public health, primary health.
I think in New Zealand now we’re refocusing ourselves on remembering that water and wastewater systems are about protecting public health in the first instance, and maybe that’s going to change the cost structure a little bit to make sure that we have that covered off.
And it’s something that has come up a lot in the work that we’ve done in asset management, is the idea of the level of service and level of service is a big part of asset management.
But it’s often one the utilities want to ignore and want to downplay as not as important as the other four components of asset management.
And an incident like this, or even Flint, Michigan, in my opinion, drives home that message that level of service is vitally essential. Because, say a community like Flint put first and foremost the public health in the community as the number 1 thing, not the money, not switching sources.
The number 1 thing is the public health of that community. I think they might have made different choices.
So, we do need to have that level of service be a key factor for all of our communities and looking at public health as a huge part of that public level of service.
And that Havelock community, the water is currently being chlorinated. They had done the risk assessment before the Incident, years before, and said hey we could get contaminated water.
They had chlorination injection points at every single one of their wells. The trouble is, once you get contamination in the water, your sampling is not continuously done online usually. Well, in New Zealand, it isn’t.
And so it’s was too late. The horse had already bolted in terms of that.
The fascinating thing is that the town wants chlorine out of the water even after a third of the town has been sick, you know. Lots of children being unwell. Older people are dying. They still don’t want chlorine on their water.
And the municipality has had to provide one well with a tap where people can go and fill up their water without chlorine in it.
And you go, well, that’s a conversation and communication between the regulators and the municipality, and the community to say we can’t guarantee the safety of the water without some sort of disinfectant and residual chlorine is still about the best way of doing that I think.