7 Oct 2013

Restoring water to Raetihi on track

8:05 pm on 7 October 2013

Agencies dealing with a diesel spill that contaminated the water supply to the Central Plateau town of Raetihi say they have been making good progress in the recovery process.

Alternate Civil Defence controller for Ruapehu District Council, Pam Bicknell, says council workers and contractors Veolia Water have mopped off diesel from the reservoir. It has now been drained to allow more cleaning.

Several cafes and food outlets in Raetihi were provided with 1000-litre tanks plumbed in to give them running water on Monday. More businesses will be connected later.

The council says there is still a target date of Wednesday next week to have reticulated non-drinkable water available so people can use their toilet, shower and laundry.

Raetihi's regular water supply was shut down on 2 October after 19,000 litres of diesel leaked from a tank at Turoa skifield into the Makotuku Stream, which feeds the town's water supply, the weekend before.

Contractors draining settling ponds that form part of the Raetihi water supply.

Contractors draining settling ponds that form part of the Raetihi water supply. Photo: Robert Milne / RUAPEHU BULLETIN

Ruapehu deputy mayor Don Cameron says the clean up and loss to business will cost millions of dollars but it should be met by insurance.

"We're asking all businesses to take account of their losses and that will be part of the insurance claim. We just do not want to see businesses suffering further on this.

"Certainly on their behalf we will be doing all we can to make sure their losses are made good."

Leonie Cadman, who runs the Barbed Wire Gallery Bach in Raetihi, says she's losing out during the prime season.

"I've had to cancel my bookings because no-one wants to stay without any water. It's sort of our prime season at the moment with the ski season going full blast. Yes, so it's going to be a good segment of our income."

Ruapehu Alpine Lifts chief executive Dave Mazey says the company will be involved in discussions about compensation.

"We've always accepted community responsibilities and whilst I can't make any commitments, or imply any commitments at this stage, we will be clearly part of discussions."

Consents reviewed thoroughly: council

The Ruapehu District Council believes it monitored as best it could the consents for the diesel tank responsible for the contamination.

The ski field company's consents are being reviewed as part of an investigation into the breach.

But council chief executive Peter Till believes the council did all it could.

"We undoubtedly made certain that it was good according to current standards when it was put in. All of these consents have a time period on, but equally, obviously, we don't go and check them once a day.

"We don't do even annual checks. Depends on the consent but probably five yearly would be typical."

The council's group manager of Strategy and Regulation, Dr Nick Peat, told Morning Report a formal investigation has been launched into the contamination but it is too soon to say if any fines will be issued as a result.

Council complimented

Alison Hope, who runs the Ranfurly Cottage bed and breakfast in Raetihi, says there has been great support so far from residents.

"Most people have been very pleased. The council has been very good, honestly, they have backed us up from day one.

"We have 15, 1000-litre tanks dotted all round Raetihi township and the laundry service I believe starts today. Apart from all the negativity we are being looked after."

Community workers are checking on Raetihi's more vulnerable people.

Wildlife seemingly unaffected

The Department of Conservation says no bird or fish deaths have been recorded as a result of the spill, as it closely monitors possible environmental damage.

The DoC incident controller, area manager John Maxwell, says an extensive survey's been made along the 17km stretch of stream contaminated by the diesel.

He says these kind of environments bounce back quickly sometimes from a spill like this, with the fast-moving mountain stream flushing the diesel through the system quite swiftly.

He says DoC does not believe the damage will be catastrophic.

More on leak

Mr Mazey says a rubber hose on a pump on the diesel storage tank somehow became disconnected and the safety system on the pump failed.

He says a safety system should have activated after about five minutes, so only about 200 litres of diesel would have discharged.

Mr Mazey says a number of elements, including maintenance checks, are being investigated by the company and the regional council.