The Health Minister is tightening up drinking water standards, including the testing for bacteria, following the Havelock North water contamination over two years ago that left 5000 people sick in a gastro outbreak.
David Clark says the Havelock North Inquiry sent a clear message that work was needed to improve the standard of drinking-water in New Zealand and the changes he's making will help keep New Zealanders safe from waterborne illness.
"The bottom line is public safety. People expect when they turn on the tap, the water they are drinking is safe, and that is a reasonable expectation which should be met," he said.
Dr Clark said many of the changes, which will take effect on 1 March 2019, are clarifications or corrections, but two changes will significantly improve the ability to test and respond to the presence of harmful bacteria such as E.coli.
The first requires water suppliers to routinely monitor the total amount of coliform bacteria in water. A high reading doesn't necessarily mean drinking-water is unsafe but can serve as an indicator of potential issues, he said.
He's also considering a change to testing for E.Coli. At the moment drinking-water suppliers test to determine if E. Coli is present in water and then carry out a second test if the initial test is positive. This means a delay of up to two days before authorities know if there is a contamination.
The proposed change will require testing to count the numbers of bacteria. Dr Clark says this should eliminate the need to carry out a second test, as the initial test will be able to determine both the presence of these bacteria and also how prevalent they are.
There will be consultation on changes affecting testing for E.coli and other coliform bacteria, which will include talking to testing laboratories which don't provide this form of testing to ensure they will have the capacity to provide this service into the future, he said.
Meanwhile, a Cabinet paper released today lays the groundwork for changes to make drinking-water safer in the future.
The paper on the future of the three waters system details proposals for a system-wide reform of regulation of drinking water, along with a new risk management regime for sources of drinking-water.