The Government Inquiry into the Havelock North Drinking-water Outbreak – implemented recommendations

The Havelock North Inquiry investigated the widespread outbreak of gastroenteritis in Havelock North in August 2016 during which more than 5000 people were estimated to have fallen ill, with up to four deaths associated with the outbreak.

The Havelock North Inquiry released its Stage Two findings in December 2017. The Inquiry highlighted widespread systemic failure of water suppliers to meet the standards required for the safe supply of drinking-water to the public.

The Inquiry raised concerns around the provision of drinking water from network suppliers servicing populations of 100 people or more. Although 80 percent of people served these drinking water suppliers have access to drinking water that meets the current standard, the remaining 20 percent do not.

The Ministry acknowledges the serious criticisms in the report directed at it. The Ministry has an oversight, leadership role in an extended system of operators. The Ministry’s role includes setting drinking water standards, reporting on local water safety plans and monitoring the work of drinking water assessors.

To improve the safety of our drinking water, the Inquiry made 51 recommendations consisting of 62 action items in three broad categories:

  • operational management and leadership by the Ministry of Health
  • technical improvements to the drinking water regulatory framework
  • future regulatory arrangements.

The Ministry of Health has set up a programme to consider and implement the 62 action items set out in the Inquiry.

The April 2018 Cabinet paper attached a table setting out the proposed response plan for the Government Inquiry into Havelock North Drinking Water.  The table identified 12 of the 62 action items had been implemented. The April 2018 Cabinet paper and table is publicly available at the Government Inquiry into the Havelock North Drinking-water Outbreak.

The November 2018 Cabinet paper Future State of the Three Waters System: Regulation and Service Delivery details proposals for a system wide reform of regulation of drinking water, along with a new risk management regime for sources of drinking-water. This Cabinet paper is available on the Department of Internal Affairs website.

As of November 2018, 22 of the 62 actions have been implemented

  • 21 out of 26 actions about immediate improvements to operational management and leadership have been implemented.
  • 1 out of 14 actions related to technical issues have been implemented.These are largely being addressed in consultation with the Drinking Water Advisory Committee (DWAC).
  • No actions related to future regulatory arrangements have been implemented.There are 22 recommendations for this, which are being addressed in the context of the wider Three Waters Review.

What’s changed since August 2018

  • Four recommendations (14f, 18, 34, 38) related to operational management and leadership have been implemented.
  • One recommendation (14l) has moved from ‘considering’ to ‘doing’. This recommendation relates to technical issues.
  • The Health (Drinking Water) Amendment bill has passed its first reading and is currently before the Health Select Committee. The Bill will allow technical regulatory changes to be made significantly more rapidly than possible with the present statutory consultation requirements.

Of the remaining 40 actions

  • 22 actions items relate to future regulatory arrangements, and will be addressed in Cabinet decisions on three waters reform expected in 2019 (as signalled in the three waters Cabinet paper).
  • 13 action items are being considered by the Drinking Water Advisory Committee (DWAC). The Committee is expected to provide expert advice on these items by March 2019.
  • Two action items will be implemented by the passage of the Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Bill, currently before the Health Select Committee.
  • One action item (removing the provision for presence/absence testing for E. coli in drinking water samples in the Drinking Water Standards) is being considered by the Minister of Health.
  • Two action items are operation and management changes being made by the Ministry of Health.
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