12 Sep 2016

Terms of Havelock North water inquiry announced

3:16 pm on 12 September 2016

A retired Court of Appeal judge will lead the government's independent inquiry into the contamination of Havelock North's water supply.

Red Cross tent set up in Havelock North

Volunteers and tankers of clean drinking water were sent to Havelock North during August's contamination crisis, in which thousands became ill. Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

More than 5000 people - a third of the town's population - were hit by gastrointestinal illness when Havelock North's drinking water became contaminated by E coli and campylobacter last month.

Justice Lyn Stevens will head the inquiry and will be joined by former director-general of health Karen Poutasi, and local government and engineering expert Anthony Wilson.

Mr Wilson is a past president of both the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand and Water New Zealand.

The inquiry will focus on how the water supply became contaminated, the response of both local and central government and how to stop similar outbreaks in the future.

The terms of reference include:

  • The causes of the incident including, but not limited to, engineering, catchment and infrastructure management, containment and process management, aquifer management, district and regional consenting processes, and monitoring and enforcement activities
  • The timing and adequacy of steps taken by Hastings District Council, Hawke's Bay District Health Board and any other party, with regard to testing and diagnostics, reporting, public communication and ensuring a safe water supply in the short and long term
  • The practices used at each stage, from identifying that a contaminant was present to (and inclusive of) the response and recovery stages of the public health incident, including but not limited to timeliness, adequacy, effectiveness, coordination and information sharing, readiness of systems, and triggers for action
  • The response by central government agencies and the adequacy of support provided by them at the local level
  • The actions that should be taken in response to any identified and confirmed contamination source, and actions to ensure a safe water supply can be provided to Havelock North
  • Practices and strategies to ensure the prevention of future such occurrences
  • The implementation of contingency plans for responding to water contamination and public health outbreak incidents by the relevant agencies
  • Any lessons and improvements that can be made more broadly in the management of the water supply network in Havelock North and/or more broadly across New Zealand
  • The regulatory regimes under which various agencies operate and any lessons and improvements that can be made to local and central government systems or practices to expedite and deal effectively with the identification of public health outbreaks
  • Any improvements that can be made in any future response to emergency events of this nature

The inquiry will not be considering any matters of civil, criminal or disciplinary liability, structural arrangements of local government, or any issues about water, aquifer and catchment management unrelated to the Havelock North contamination.

It will start this week, and will conduct an initial sitting in Hawke's Bay in the coming weeks.

The panel will report back by the end of May next year.

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