After last minute talks with land-owners went right down to the wire yesterday, the Government has instructed contractor McConnell Dowell to begin turning on the taps.
Most land-owners of the 10 water intakes have agreed to a six-month trial of poly-aluminium chloride, a coagulant that cleans the water of smaller particles and harmful protozoa, like those that cause Giardia. It is different from chlorine.
Starting with those homes and businesses receiving water from the Matavera intake, authorities hope Rarotonga residents will be receiving cleaner, safer water within days.
But they will not be able to give it an all-clear as meeting international drinking water standards yet – they expect that to meet those safety standards, they will need approval from government to further disinfect the water with chlorine.
The new infrastructure and pipelines will be disinfected with chlorine as a one-off measure, but Cabinet has not yet agreed to ongoing disinfection of the water – a step experts believe is crucial to guaranteeing safe drinking water and avoiding further fatal gastro outbreaks like one that killed at least three people in the 1960s.
Project Management Unit spokesperson Kate Woodruffe said: “Once connected, the public water supply will go through all steps of the new treatment system except disinfection of the water supply.”
No chlorine would be added to the drinking water supply at this stage, she said, so the water would not be safe to drink without additional treatment such as boiling.
Water-testing and addressing customers’ wellbeing is the responsibility of the new government-owner water company, To Tatou Vai – and its chief executive Brent Manning expects to spend a few days testing the water in the new storage tanks, before releasing it down the valleys to people’s homes.
Polyaluminium chloride will initially be introduced for a trial period and the monitoring reports will be used to inform Government and landowners’ views on its long-term use.
This involves slowly mixing a ‘coagulant’ into the water, which makes small particles stick together and settle at the bottom of the tank.
Woodruffe said key Matavera intake landowners had given their consent for the one-off disinfection of the infrastructure and the six-month Polyaluminium Choride trial.
“We have today met one landowner, someone we’ve not met previously, who would prefer the new system be trialled at other intakes first. We are at this stage unsure if this individual is a Matavera valley landowner and/or intake site owner.”
Lawyer Tai Nicholas said the landowners he represented had a meeting with government officials yesterday to discuss the use of chemicals, and those talks would continue. “If these chemicals are going to be used we need to make sure it doesn’t impact on the people or the environment in a harmful way,” he said.
Woodruffe said the commissioning of the new water treatment systems at the intake sites would not affect the ring main upgrade. Stage 1 remedial work is still being carried out by Landholdings Ltd, work which will continue onto early next year.