Queenstown’s council has defended claims it has inadequate drinking water supply infrastructure and testing regimes, as rising cryptosporidium cases force residents to boil water for a third day – and there’s no end in sight.

As Mountain Scene went to print yesterday, the boil water notice issued Monday night by council remains in place for many Queenstown and Frankton neighbourhoods, and there were 17 cases of the nasty gastro disease, confirmed by Te Whatu Ora Health NZ’s Public Health Service Southern.

The number of cases nearly doubled from Monday to Tuesday — by yesterday afternoon there were an additional two.

After Scene’s deadline, council property and infrastructure GM Tony Avery issued a statement, confirming the ‘boil water’ notice will remain in place “until further notice”.

Council received a compliance order from water services regulator Taumata Arowai at 5.30pm yesterday – the primary requirement, being the boil water notice, was already in place.

“The order means the boil water notice will stay in effect until council is able to achieve the protoza barrier required under the ‘Drinking Water Quality Assurance Rules’.

“Council has been and will continue to investigate with urgency how that can be achieved” – something media man Sam White told Scene yesterday it was intending to put off till the long-term plan process.

A media stand-up’s planned at 10.30am today – see odt.co.nz for updates, and see below for the full statement.

Council’s still to establish whether it’s the town water supply making people sick, but have all precautions in place as they beef up testing.

However, a source close to council’s water set-up tells Scene its water-testing regime is ‘‘horribly inadequate’’.

The source alleges council is not doing enough testing at different points of the water distribution process or getting results quickly enough to be aware of risks.

Council infrastructure ops manager Simon Mason counters, saying the district’s community supply is monitored regularly, in accordance with the drinking water rules.

Water quality is regularly monitored for E.coli, chlorine, total coliforms, and a number of other number of factors, he says.

‘‘Unfortunately cryptosporidium is not specifically identified by any of the routine testing undertaken, and nor is it a contaminant that can be tested for in ‘real time’.’’

Council has put in place additional testing for cryptosporidium following the confirmed cases.

Mason: ‘‘The regular testing ensures that the treatment process meets compliance requirements and also that the results comply with the maximum acceptable values in the standards.

‘‘The water is again sampled for the same parameters at sampling points within the distribution system.’’

The source claims council’s ‘‘single-source’’ network is an issue because it means water supplies can’t be substituted and potentially contaminated water can’t be isolated.

Mason says the Queenstown scheme includes two distributed intakes both taking water from the one source — Lake Whakatipu.

‘‘However, neither intake in isolation would be capable of supplying the entire scheme.

‘‘In the near future, as a result of investment currently under way, water will also be brought into the Frankton area from the new Shotover Country borefield and treatment plant.’’

But council doesn’t have protozoa barriers that protect water against cryptosporidium on its main Queenstown supply – it does have it on supplies for other areas, such as Arrowtown, Arthurs Point and Lake Hayes.

This fact brings Rees Hotel owner Mark Rose to boiling point, saying it’s a ‘‘terrible situation’’.

‘‘When it comes to health and safety we’re all held to account, as we should be, but we don’t have a filter on the water in this jurisdiction but we do in others — that just sounds like bollocks.

‘‘If we had the filter we wouldn’t be dancing in the dark, would we?’’

White told Scene, before Avery’s media statement was issued, ‘‘timeframes and costs for further investment in protozoa barriers will be
included in the forthcoming long-term plan process’’.

Meanwhile, council has set up a dedicated page on its website with updated information about the unfolding crisis, including resources for
businesses — visit qldc.govt.nz/crypto

Council’s full statement last night

Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) acknowledges the compliance order received from water services regulator Taumata Arowai at 5.30pm, this evening (Wednesday 20 September).

QLDC Property and Infrastructure general manager Tony Avery confirmed the boil water notice for the majority of Queenstown and Frankton neighbourhoods issued on Monday remains in place until further notice.

“We have already put in place the primary requirement of the compliance order, being the boil water notice. 

“The order means the boil water notice will stay in effect until council is able to achieve the protozoa barrier required under the Drinking Water Quality Assurance Rules. 

“Council has been and will continue to investigate with urgency how that will be achieved.

The most important message for our community in those areas affected is that boiling water for at least one minute and good hand hygiene – washing with soap and drying well – is the best way to prevent infection by the protozoa, cryptosporidium.”

Avery says he and Queenstown Lakes District Mayor Glyn Lewers will host a media stand-up in order to share information with the community tomorrow (Thursday) at 10.30am at council chambers, 10 Gorge Road Queenstown.

“In the meantime, council officers will be working hard to understand the detail and full implications of the order.

“The first condition of the order is to prepare a community engagement plan and provide a copy to Taumata Arowai for review and approval by 5pm tomorrow.”

“Much of this work has been underway since Monday in terms of ensuring ‘affected consumers – including temporary visitors to Queenstown – are aware of the boil water advice in relation to each distribution zone’, but we will of course review and build on our efforts over the past two days.

“We will also be working closely with our tourism and hospitality partners, including Destination Queenstown and the Chamber of Commerce, to reassure domestic and international visitors.

“Whilst it’s clearly not business as usual, the simple step of boiling water and practicing good hygiene is effective protection against cryptosporidium.”

“To this end, council’s environmental health team has contacted approximately 170 food operators – the majority in person – yesterday and today.

“We have also today published a dedicated page on the council website for individuals and businesses that includes frequently asked questions and downloadable resources as well as news and updates.

“I would like to emphasise that neither the source of the 17 cases confirmed to date by NPHS Southern, nor a link between them, has been identified.

“However, we recognise the potential for acCouncil-managed water supply to be the source.

“That is why we issued the boil water notice on Monday in line with advice from Taumata Arowai and NPHS Southern, and why we will be complying with the former’s compliance order.”

Areas where people should boil water:

  • Queenstown town centre (north along Gorge Rd as far as and including Industrial Place);
  • Queenstown Hill;
  • Frankton Rd and suburbs on the hill above Frankton Rd;
  • Fernhill and Sunshine Bay;
  • Frankton including Five Mile, Remarkables Park and Glenda Dr;
  • Quail Rise and Tucker Beach Rd;
  • Kelvin Heights; and
  • Hanley’s Farm.

The notice applies to residential and commercial properties (including accommodation providers) that are connected to a public supply in the locations identified above.

Unaffected areas (no need to boil water):

  • Arrowtown;
  • Arthurs Point;
  • Lake Hayes Estate;
  • Shotover Country;
  • Upper Clutha; and
  • any properties on a private supply (e.g Jacks Point).

Boiling water kills any microorganisms that could be present. In the locations outlined above people are advised to boil all their drinking water for at least one minute (or use bottled water) for the following uses:

  • Drinking water – including cold beverages, ice-making and coffee machines.
  • Food preparation – including washing uncooked foods such as salad, vegetables, and fruit.
  • Preparing baby formula.
  • Washing food utensils.
  • Brushing teeth.
  • Pets.

QLDC water schemes currently without a protozoa barrier:

  • Queenstown
  • Wānaka
  • Luggate
  • Glenorchy
  • Wānaka Airport
  • Corbridge

Schemes with a protozoa barrier:

  • Arrowtown
  • Arthurs Point
  • Lake Hayes, Lakes Hayes Estate, Shotover Country
  • Hāwea

(NB QLDC does not supply water to Kingston).

General information about how to stop the spread of cryptosporidium and what to do if you have symptoms provided by NPHS Southern:

How to help stop the spread of infection

The best thing you and your whānau can do to stop the spread of cryptosporidium (crypto) infection is to practise good hand hygiene. This means scrubbing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and drying them thoroughly with a clean towel:

  • After using the bathroom, changing a diaper, or helping others use the bathroom
  • Before eating or cooking
  • After handling an animal
  • After gardening, even if you used gloves
  • When caring for someone with diarrhoea

Other ways to help stop the spread of cryptosporidium infection are:

  • Stay home or keep young children home when you or they have an active case of diarrhoea
  • Don’t drink untreated water
  • Shower before using recreational swimming facilities to wash away any potential Cryptosporidium organisms on your body.
  • Don’t swallow pool water.
  • Wash all produce before eating it. Peeling the skins will also reduce your risk.
  • Take young children at the pool to the bathroom frequently.
  • Change children’s diapers often.
  • Stay clear of the water if you or your children have diarrhoea. Stay out of the water for a full two weeks after the diarrhoea subsides.

What to do if you have symptoms

The most common symptom of crypto infection is smelly, watery diarrhoea and stomach cramps. If you live in the Queenstown area or have visited there in the last 12 days and are experiencing these symptoms, please call your GP and inform them. 

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