Napier's Mayor says acceptance of the Government's offer of water infrastructure funding would not lock the city into permanent chlorination of the water supply.
Napier's water supply was chlorinated as a precautionary measure in May 2017 following the 2016 Havelock North campylobacter outbreak.
Since then, many residents have repeatedly complained of discoloured, smelly water coming out of their taps, while others have complained that their hot water cylinders failed or started leaking once the water was chlorinated.
The council says the water is safe to drink once runs clear, but many in the city have stopped drinking it, or have opted to install home filtration systems at their own cost.
The chlorine which was added to the supply is slowly dislodging biofilm inside the pipes - a coating of sediment built up over decades which contains manganese - leading to the brown colouration.
Napier City Council initially said the discoloured water did not present a health risk, but updated their stance following a 1 News investigation in 2018, saying residents should not drink the discoloured water.
The Government last week announced new infrastructure funding which would be available for councils - so long as they opt in to the Three Waters reform programme.
The funding would give Hawke's Bay councils about $50 million between them to spend on upgrading their drinking water, waste water and storm water networks, but would require them to adopt "mandatory disinfection of water supplies, with exemptions only in appropriate circumstances" - meaning chlorination would be the norm.
MAYOR SAYS HER END GOAL IS STILL UNCHLORINATED WATER
Mayor Kirsten Wise, who took up the mayoralty in October last year on a platform of sorting out the water woes, told 1 NEWS she remains committed to exploring the removal of chlorine from Napier's water supply.
Ms Wise said Napier City Council will make a decision on whether to accept the offer "when we know more about what the Government is suggesting.
"As a region, we have already been looking at this very issue for a while now so are progressing our consideration already," Ms Wise said.
"NCC had already proposed spending $40 million over the next three years on drinking water infrastructure before the Government announcement."
Ms Wise said unequivocally that "accepting this funding does not commit Napier to permanent chlorination of our drinking water.
"The Government have said Councils will be able to apply for an exemption and I confirmed this personally with the Prime Minister and Minister Nanaia Mahuta when they were here last week."
Napier City Council has commissioned a review of the feasibility and safety of Napier operating a chlorine-free network.
The report is being carried out by Auckland engineering consultants Pattle Delamore Partners at a cost of up to $240,000, and is due to be completed later this year.
Two poorly-maintained water bore sites on Brookvale Road near Havelock North were found to be the source of the contaminated water which caused the 2016 outbreak - Ms Wise confirmed that all of Napier's existing water bores have been upgraded since 2016 in light of new standards.
Ms Wise said that, in her opinion, Napier's water supply can be operated safely without the addition of chlorine.
"However we need additional information on how this can be done and that's why we commissioned the review which is currently underway," she said.
"I would most certainly like us to have an unchlorinated water supply provided that is safe for everyone and I'm looking forward to discussing this further with our community."
ANTI-CHLORINATION GROUP HOLDS CONCERNS
Pauline Doyle, spokesperson for Napier anti-chlorination group Guardians of the Aquifer, said she believes that Napier would have "a good chance of an exemption", should it accept the Government funding.
However, Ms Doyle said it would be a "worst nightmare" scenario if the council's autonomy over its water infrastructure was lessened by the agreement with central government.
She said councils could become susceptible to "strong arm tactics" from the Government, and that "if Napier is to go chlorine-free, we need to retain control of our water assets.
"Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta claims this Government does not have an agenda for privatisation, but who can guarantee it won’t happen under the next Government?" Ms Doyle said.
Ms Doyle said she was confident the Mayor genuinely wants to see the water de-chlorinated, and that there is "a strong majority support" among Napier councillors to de-chlorinate.
"With some practical improvements in the way the network is managed, Napier can succeed in gaining exemption from any mandatory chlorination regulations introduced by the Government," Ms Doyle said.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT MINISTER SAYS REFORMS WON'T MEAN PRIVATISATION
Nanaia Mahuta, speaking yesterday to RNZ's Nine to Noon programme, gave assurances that she is suggesting "an enduring public ownership model", and said the model has support from "across the house".
"I've maintained throughout this whole process that it's a core expectation of our Government that we have a public ownership model - that's a very clear expectation across the local government sector as well," Ms Mahuta said.
"That's to ensure that our emphasis, first and foremost, is on quality, reliable and healthy drinking water.
"It's a public model that I'm promoting."
Ms Mahuta added that "there are mechanisms that we can put in place to ensure that it's very difficult to overturn a publicly-owned model."
Councils who choose not to opt in to the reform initially would still have to opportunity to do so later on, she said, and those that did not "won't be disadvantaged".
However, Ms Mahuta said many councils already know the current, fragmented approach to managing water - with 67 separate territorial authorities currently going it alone - "is not working as well as it needs to be.
The reform could see the number of authorities responsible for storm, waste and drinking water across the country go from 67 down to "anything from one to five".
Ms Mahuta said the changes in structure would not affect the number of people employed in those areas - "they will continue to be employed through a professionalised entity that will solely be focused on delivering water."