It was a long consultation process on water disinfection that ended with a final meeting in Titikaveka. Government had been anxious to assure the public that their views would be taken into account.
But it was all a sham, say critics. Investigations now reveal that water supply agency To Tatou Vai had already opened bids for an overseas chemical company to supply the incredients to chlorinate Rarotonga’s new water supply.
The day the people of Titikaveka turned up to make their voices heard was the day the tender process closed, and To Tatou Vai prepared to choose its chlorine supplier.
Now, the Cook Islands News has been told there is already a Cabinet paper prepared, approving the use of chlorine to disinfect the water. And a photo published by anti-chlorine lobby group Vai Ora’anga Ora (Water of Life), reveals a new chlorine containment tank already in place at one of the island’s water intakes, at Avana, in readiness for final sign-off. “It’s getting real now,” said Vai Ora’anga Ora member Justine Flanagan.
On May 7, government put out its tender for supply of water treatment chemicals – polyaluminum chloride and calcium hypochlorite – while the “public consultation” was just beginning. By the time the consultation concluded on May 30, the tender was also closing.
The tender sought water treatment chemicals for water and wastewater treatment supply and disposal, water pollution and water and sewer utilities.
Calcium hypochlorite is used in chlorination, the least popular of the disinfection solutions according to a Cook Islands News poll.
To Tatou Vai chief executive officer Brent Manning said there were several advantages for putting the tender out when the consultation was still underway. He said he didn’t have time to list the advantages when contacted yesterday.
He said finance minister Mark Brown would release a statement yesterday, but none was issued.
Manning, a former president of Water New Zealand, championed chlorine in 2017 to combat a nasty outbreak of water-borne illness in the Hawke’s Bay region. It was a “very effective disinfectant”, he said, because it provided for residual disinfecting, all the way to homes and businesses.
He acknowledged downsides: “Chlorine added to water high in organics can give rise to disinfection by-products, some of which are claimed to be carcinogenic,” he said then.
But combined with micro-filtration, he said chlorine would remove both waterborne pathogens and single-celled micro-organisms like cryptosporiodis and giardia.
Opposition MP Selina Napa called government’s consultation “farcical” and “duplicitous”, saying it would only provoke further opposition to chlorination.
“It seems that, despite what finance minister Mark Brown assured our people in Parliament, it was all a whitewash, the wheels were already well in motion to introduce chlorination to our water supply.”
At the opening of Parliament last month, Mark Brown said there were a number of options for disinfecting the water for households, and all of them were being taken into consideration.
The government would make the final decision on chlorination, based on scientific evidence.
“The most important aspect of this consultation is to ensure there is no misinformation and that people do not use misinformation for political reasons,” he said. “Let’s be clear, the priority of this government is to ensure the safety of our people when they drink water from taps.”
Andy Kirkwood, from Vai Ora'anga Ora, said they were not convinced by the approach taken by the government. “For us, responsibility is knowing about our island and if you are designing a system which is appropriate for our island then we always need to listen to opinions of people who we bring in with expert knowledge but it’s us, the people who live here, should be making the final decisions.”