Health officials have waded into a bitter Gibbston Valley water feud after some households had drinking supplies severed.
Public Health South last week fired a warning letter to Gibbston Water Services – a company beneficially-owned by bankrupt developer Dave Henderson – after it cut connections of some residents attached to the scheme.
In the letter, obtained by Mountain Scene, medical officer of health Dr Derek Bell says he’s been informed that “a number of households” on the GWS supply have been cut off.
“If this is the case”, he adds, the company should be aware of its obligations under the Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Act 2007.
“The purpose of this legislation is to protect public health by ensuring that people have access to basic necessities of life such as an adequate supply of drinking water and water for sanitation.”
Henderson says only those with an “illegal take” were disconnected.
The Act states that every networked water supplier must “take all practicable steps to ensure an adequate supply of drinking water to each point of supply”, and that “whilst supply may be restricted due to unpaid accounts, an adequate supply of drinking water must be continued to be supplied”, Bell says.
“It is possible that prosecution could follow such an offence,” he adds.
Mountain Scene spoke to some residents who claim their water supply has been cut off but no one was prepared to go on the record.
Mountain Scene has also sighted a letter from GWS co-director John Butler dated January 31, 2011, telling one resident they had 10 days to accept the “final offer” to enter an agreement – costing $5000 plus GST – before being disconnected from the scheme.
Bankrupted Henderson is the beneficial owner – three times removed – of GWS.
Henderson says the scheme is a “community not-for-profit scheme” and funded by people with a “legitimate” connection.
“There are a small handful of people who have an illegal connection. They have been approached with the offer of legalising their connection. They have never taken up those offers,” he says.
“These are affluent and high-profile people. Like any business, the water company can’t operate with people stealing water.
“Those with an illegal take have been disconnected. They have had over two years now of leeway. It is also unfair on others in this community who pay for their water to carry the additional burden.”
Gibbston Community Association chairwoman Susan Stevens says the issue between GWS and residents has been a long-standing one.
“I’m aware that some people have received letters requesting money, payment of some sort [from GWS] …
We’ve received complaints that people did not have water.”
Stevens, who’s connected to a separate scheme, says she has “tremendous sympathy” for the residents.
“My heart goes out to those people who ring me and tell me they don’t have potable water.
“It’s a situation where these people have bought into a scheme which they’re unhappy with and there’s nothing really that gives us any authority to do much on their behalf,” Stevens says.