Springfield residents told to ‘sit and wait’ for fresh water supply one year on

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Residents of a Canterbury town have been depending on drinking water from a tanker for nearly a year.

And it is likely to be another year before Springfield’s water supply is guaranteed safe.

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Photo: Michael Heim/ 123rf

A slip into the town’s Kowai River water supply during severe floods last May, means the water now gets too stirred up to treat after heavy rain.

Many of Springfield’s 370 residents have not had reliable access to safe drinking water since, with the latest boil water notice in February prompting showers to be installed at the community hall three weeks ago.

Town committee chair Graham Dawson said it had been hard on residents.

“Under [the latest] boil water notice, you can shower in it – some people are drinking it, some people aren’t,” he said.

“We have showers in the township now and we also have laundry facilities provided by a local business, using a different water source. Some people are living with it, some people are fighting against it … so it’s a personal thing as much as anything.”

Dawson said water supplier Selwyn District Council had been working to fix the problem – but it was complex and progress was slow.

Council infrastructure manager Murray Washington said it was already testing possible solutions.

“We’re looking at additional storage … that will mean in a short [rainfall] event, we’ll have sufficient water in the tanks to last a few days so we can actually turn off the river supply. We are also looking at further micro-filtration.”

But it will take at least a year for even a short-term fix to be put in place.

Washington said the earliest tankers could be finished in June, though this measure is only expected to cut down on how long the supply is affected for – not resolve the issue.

Retired resident Simon Williams has not been badly affected though is worried about what the future holds.

“It’s going to keep happening. People are fearful of the winter. [They] think ‘if this is what happens after a moderate summer rainfall, what happens after a major rainfall in the winter?’. The Springfield water supply is a conundrum … even though you can build new tanks and reservoirs and new filtration systems.”

Water New Zealand principal data scientist Lesley Smith said the water supply system in general was up against a number of challenges.

“Our existing water supplies are facing a variety of pressures at the moment. Climate change is one of them … we know that the West Coast is going to get wetter. That’s an area of the country where we are definitely going to see more heavy rainfall events and slips. Population growth is another pressure and ageing infrastructure is another.”

Council infrastructure group manager Murray Washington believes eventually Springfield will get a new water supply.

“The Springfield water supply has been an issue for the council for a number of years,” he said.

“I think we will probably move away from the river long-term. We will probably try to move to a deep groundwater source. The surface water takes, like the Kowai River, are problematic and there’s a limit to how much you can extract out of them, in terms of consistent, quality water.”

Smith said the government’s three waters proposal may provide better resources to help with this.

Selwyn District Council last year said it was extremely disappointed the government mandated the project but it has not yet taken a stance on the plan.

Simon Williams just wants a system that works – no matter who puts it in place.

“I notice that the three waters [reform proposal] says that it will provide proper, safe drinking water for every community. Now, I’m not sure how this is going to happen if the water is still coming from the Kowai River and there’s a slip upstream. As far as I’m concerned, if Springfield had a good water supply it wouldn’t matter to me too much who was in charge of it.”

Dawson said there was a lot happening behind the scenes but for now “we sit and wait”.

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