Quarry Water - Public Health versus Business Profits

The Political History

7 December 1998
A "City Scene" article states that the Three Kings water treatment plant is nearing completion and should be operational before Christmas 1998.

December 1998
Metrowater test results show that the water from the Three Kings water treatment plant has a much higher level of nitrate contamination than our existing water supply from the Waitakeres.

21 December 1998
Phil Goff MP holds a public meeting at Hillsborough Primary School to enable the local residents to voice their concerns to Metrowater regarding the quality of the water.

February 1999
The local residents become aware of the high nitrate contamination in the aquifer water and the possible health consequences.

18 February 1999
Meeting, chaired by Deputy Mayor Bruce Hucker, involving the local community groups, university professionals and the senior management and directors of Metrowater. Two hours of intense discussions concerning the high level of nitrate contamination in the aquifer, where it originated, and its affect on public health if the water was to be reticulated.

The opposing opinions were;

  1. The community groups and university professionals claim that high nitrate contamination in a drinking water supply is linked to an increased risk of infant mortality and increased occurrence of certain types of cancer. They also claim that sewage is the main contributing source of the nitrate, and claim that sewage-contaminated drinking water is linked to an increased risk of various health problems.
  2. Metrowater claim that the water meets the minimum requirements stipulated by the health authorities and is therefore acceptable to be sold to the public.
The meeting concluded with the resolutions that;
  1. Metrowater would pay the costs for further testing to find the most likely source of the nitrate contamination.
  2. The community groups would refrain from publicising the nitrate issue until the testing was complete.
16 March 1999
David Howell (Chief Executive, Metrowater) states in a letter to the Three Kings United Group, with copies to Bruce Hucker, Vern Walsh, Jon Olsen and Michael Stiassny;

"Specifically, we have agreed to investigate likely sources of the nitrate to rule out the possibility of sewage contamination."

March 1999
The quarry owner needs to get rid of the unwanted aquifer water because it is hindering his business operations. The water is pumped at a rate of about 5,000 cubic metres per day through the stormwater pipes to the Manukau Harbour and will continue at about this rate until the aquifer has been sufficiently drained to allow the scoria to be quarried a further 57 metres down to sea level..

22 May 1999
Dr Michael Rosen, a nominated technical expert funded by Metrowater, submits his "First Draft" report to Metrowater and the Three Kings United Group. The conclussions include;

"The source of nitrate contamination in the aquifer is currently not known definitively. However, the data suggests that nitrate is of recent origin and is not related to storm water runoff. The likely cause of nitrate is from numerous small leaks in sewage pipe connections, although landfill sources cannot be discounted. It is unlikely that high nitrate concentrations are caused by natural processes."

June 1999
Dr Michael Rosen submits his finished report. He has decided, without the community group's consent, to change the goal of the study. His finished report claims;

"The goal of the study is to determine the variability of nitrate-nitrogen in the aquifer and to assess if this would lead to a change in water quality with time (continued pumping)."

What started out as a common agreement to find the cause of the nitrate contamination has now turned into a study to predict if it will get better or worse. The community group objected strongly to this turn of events and to several other abnormalities in the report.

The finished report states;

"The source of nitrate-nitrogen contamination in the aquifer is currently not known definitively. However, the data suggests that nitrate-nitrogen concentrations come from an older source such as septic tanks (which are no longer used, or have been removed) or old landfills. It is unlikely that high nitrate-nitrogen concentrations in the aquifer are caused by natural processes."

In the period between the first draft report and the finished report, new evidence became available which caused Dr Rosen to change his mind about the likely cause of the contamination. Originally he attributed it to "recent" sewage from leaking sewage pipes. Finally he attributed it to "old" sewage from septic tanks. At no stage has he excluded sewage as the likeliest cause of the contamination.

October 1999
Professor Tord Kjellstrom and Dr Carol Boyle, from the University of Auckland, submit their report on the Three Kings Aquifer Water Supply. Their report is highly critical of the proposed water supply. The report identifies many areas of risk to public health.

6 October 1999
The Three Kings United Group made a formal submission to the Auckland City Council's Works and Services Committee, urging them to place Public Health ahead of business profits, and refuse to ratify Metrowater's intention to reticulate the water from the Three Kings aquifer. In the submission, strong emphasis was placed on the health risks which had been identified in the experts reports.

The Works and Services Committee voted to refer the matter to the full Council.

13 April 2000
At a City Council Meeting the Three Kings United Group presented further submissions and expert opinions, again urging the City Council to place Public Health ahead of business profits, and refuse to ratify Metrowater's intention to reticulate the water from the Three Kings aquifer. Once again, strong emphasis was placed on the health risks which had been identified in the experts reports.

14 April 2000
A News Release from the Mayor's Office states; "The council has taken note of local residents' concerns. Until we have more information and are fully satisfied with the results, we will not be proceeding with plans to use this source as a domestic water supply."

29 November 2000
Michael McQuillan, Manager Utility Planning, Auckland City, issues a report which outlines the need for some "significant improvements" to the water supply project to make it comply with the new Drinking Water Standard for NZ (2000) - at an estimated cost of $150,000.00. An associated report prepared by Auckland UniServices Limited, for Metrowater, calculates that it would take the raw sewage from 500 households for at least 2.6 years to produce the amount of nitrate that is currently in the aquifer. This calculated quantity of sewage in the aquifer would agree with Dr Rosen's findings that the nitrate contamination is most likely from septic tanks which were once common in the water catchment area.

9 March 2001
"Astley springs a surprise" is the front page headline in the Central Leader. "After six years of battles, the plug may finally be pulled on plans to supply drinking water from Three Kings Quarry. The decision follows a surprise about-turn by Auckland City works committee chairman, Doug Astley, who unexpectedly sided with concerned residents at a meeting on Wednesday. Mr Astley recommended the Three Kings water supply not be connected, but be retained as a water supply for emergency use. It was passed seven votes in favour and only one against."

"Mr Astley says the weight of public concern forced him to alter his stand."

"After all the residents have been through" says Corinne McLaren, President of the Three Kings United Group, "we were not expecting him to stand up and say let's not connect the water."

"Metrowater spokeswoman Sharon Buckland did not wish to comment at this stage."
 
 

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