Panel chair Lyn Stevens QC said the outbreak “shook public confidence” in this fundamental service of providing safe drinking water and it raised “serious questions” about the safety and security of New Zealand’s drinking water.
The district and regional councils did not directly cause the outbreak, but their “dysfunctional relationship” and their lack of co-operation resulted in a number of missed opportunities that may have prevented it from occurring.
The regional council failed to meet its responsibility to act as the guardian of the aquifers under the Heretaunga Plains, he said.
This is the same regional council that tried to blame it all on the district council and tried to prosecute them, at huge cost to the taxpayer.
The district council “failed to embrace or implement the high standard of care required of a public drinking-water supplier”, particularly in light of a similar outbreak in the district in 1998, from which it appeared to have learned nothing.
The council’s mid-level managers especially failed, Stevens said. They delegated tasks but did not adequately supervise or ensure implementation of requirements. This led to unacceptable delays in developing the council’s water safety plan which would have been “fundamental in addressing the risks of the outbreak”.
Drinking Water Assessors were also at fault, with Stevens finding they were “too hands off” in applying the drinking water standards.
They should have been stricter in requiring the district council to comply with responsibilities with its water safety plan, he said.
“They failed to address the [council] sufficiently about the lack of risk assessment and the link between the bores and the nearby pond.”
The regional council should never have launched the prosecution of the district council, which it later withdrew, Stevens said.
The prosecution was “bound to have failed” and $450,000 the regional council spent on investigating the vase “could have been more wisely spent on investigating the status of the aquifer”.
It seems to me this is exactly why amalgamation of local councils made sense – no turf wars and patch protection.