Illness, ill-feeling and protest – that's the fall-out from the bad water dumped into the reticulation system in the small western bay towns of Paengaroa and Pongakawa this week.
It's also left residents demanding answers and reassurances from the Western Bay of Plenty District Council, and the community Facebook page boiling over with complaints.
“I am not going to pay my water bill,” says Ross Phillips of Pongakawa. “Fair's fair.”
“My son went upstairs for a shower one evening and next minute he's screaming ‘my head's burning, my back's burning',” says another affected resident Michelle Mohi of Paengaroa. “And I am going whaaaaat?” That was Monday night about 8.30pm and she had to rinse her son off with milk and juice. “Anything out of the fridge.”
“It made me feel dizzy, queasy and tired the first time round” says Gaylene Conroy. “And I am feeling ill again.”
This week's bad water didn't affect Carrie Kidd this time. “But it's the council's approach; they don't tell anyone the water is bad, we have to find out the hard way.” And the ‘hard way' was when she bathed five-month-old son Quinn a few months ago and he broke out in a full body rash.
“He had sensitive skin anyway but the water just set his treatment back to square one.”
According to the council what happened this week is believed to have been caused by a section of water line that had been out of commission being re-commissioned without adequate flushing.
This led to a body of water with higher than normal pH entering the main system, affecting some properties in Paengaroa and Pongakawa. On Tuesday morning the council advised residents it was aware of the issue.
It also advised consumers to test their water and if it felt slimy they should run their taps for several minutes. If left running most home systems would flush within 10 minutes. And then what people probably needed to hear most – “Water with high pH is not unsafe, but can cause discomfort to people with sensitive skin,” says the council's utilities manager, Kelvin Hill.
That's because the water is amore alkaline than it should be.
And it's not the first time. Carrie says high pH levels were present on March 24, again on April 4 and then again Monday night. “There was stuff floating on the surface – like petrol floats on water. And all they tell us is if it's oily, don't use it. Well, we are paying for our water and it's really annoying. We are paying for something we can't use.”
Out at Pukehina Gaylene says she was suffering another bout of queasiness, dizziness and tiredness for the second time this year. At first she thought it was a bug, now she blames the bad water. “I didn't see a doctor because I thought I was being overly-dramatic. But now I learn a lot of people were feeling the same way.”
An advisory from Toi Te Ora Public Health confirms the main concern with the pH level was a skin irritation in some people.
However Gaylene's disappointed because she says she trusted someone with her health. “Who is responsible? Who can reassure us this won't happen again?”
On Monday night on SH2 at Pongakawa Ross Phillips' domestic water supply felt slimy. “It feels like the surface layer of your skin has been worn off, like if you use oven cleaner without wearing protective gloves.”'
He says he was told that by the time the alarm went up about the pH levels, the water had been dumped into the system and there was no control over where it went or who got it.
“People should be warned. Better still, turn the supply off. If no water comes out of the tap, no harm done.”
But if the water that comes out of the tap looks like any other water, Ross says you fill a glass and drink it. “You aren't rubbing it on your hands to test the pH levels first.”
He's told council that until it comes back and explains the whole story, how it happened, why the levels were so high without any notification and what it's doing about the problem, then he won't be paying his water bill. “And they're not going to do that!”
On Monday night, as soon as the problem occurred, the council did arrive with supplies of bottled water. They were well-received.
“Because I am certainly not drinking the water,” says Michelle. “Here in Paengaroa we have always been complaining about the crap water.” She says their kettles corrode faster than anywhere and the water is so hard is stains baths, taps and toilets.”
Then another council advisory Wednesday night. “Residents unsure about their water quality are being advised to do a precautionary flush of their homes systems.”
That's after investigating reports of disparity in water quality in areas neighbouring Pongakawa and Paengaroa. There was flushing in Pukehina and Maketu on Wednesday to remove pockets of higher pH, and Maketu pH levels have remained within acceptable levels since Monday.
“We want to reiterate that if you are unsure about the water in your home system, of if you think it feels slimy, flushing or emptying your water cylinder by running water for 10 minutes should resolve this problem,” says the council's Kelvin Hill.