Water chlorination

We are temporarily treating Christchurch's drinking water with chlorine while we upgrade our water supply network. Temporary chlorination provides an extra level of protection against waterborne illnesses.

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 Where we have chlorinated

Tap water in Christchurch city is still safe to drink. The quality of the groundwater remains excellent, and we test it daily to ensure it is free of bacterial contaminants. 

 Latest news about the water supply

How much of the city’s drinking-water supply is currently chlorine free?
About 20 per cent, with most of the remainder of the city being treated with a low dose of 0.2 parts per million (ppm), which is a fifth of the dose we first started treating with. There are some pump stations where we still need to use unsecure wells while we drill new deeper ones, and these are being dosed at 0.5 or 1 ppm, depending on whether the first customer is within one or two minutes of the pump station.

When will the Council remove all of the chlorine from the water supply network?
While we can’t provide a specific timeframe for the complete removal of chlorine, we’re working with the drinking water assessors in an effort to achieve this as soon as possible.

What’s stopping the Council from removing all of the chlorine?
Until our new water safety plan is approved by the drinking water assessors, we need to keep operating under our current (approved) water safety plan, which requires us to keep chlorine in the drinking water until the security of all our well heads have been signed off by an expert in well-head security and then approved by the Drinking Water Assessor. In addition, there are some other parts of our water supply network that need to be upgraded before our new water safety plan can be approved and the chlorine removed. Those other parts include some reservoirs and suction tanks, and backflow prevention from commercial and industrial sites.

Why can’t the Council provide a specific timeframe for the complete removal of chlorine?
The timeline for getting our new water safety plan approved (and the chlorine completely removed) is uncertain, because it depends on the drinking water assessors agreeing with our risk assessment in the new plan, and also agreeing we’ve taken steps to make sure the water supply network is secure enough without the need for ongoing chlorine treatment.

So what’s the latest update on the new water safety plan’s progress?

  • The panel reviewing our new water safety plan sent us their adequacy report on 31 January 2020, which found we complied in some areas but not others.
  • We then prepared a list of 57 proposed actions, with about half of those being quite straightforward wording changes to the water safety plan, 40 per cent needing a moderate amount of work, and seven needing a lot of time and effort. To keep things moving forward, we’ve proposed including those last seven as improvement actions under the water safety plan, rather than completing them before resubmitting the plan to the panel.
  • We then asked for clarification on the panel’s adequacy report and our proposed list of actions and received their response on 24 April 2020.
  • The next step is to update our water safety plan and then resubmit it to the panel for review, which we expect to do by December 2020.

What is the Council doing to prepare for the new drinking water regulations?
Safe, chlorine-free drinking water is a major priority for the Council and for the people of Christchurch. The Council has resolved that, long term, it wants to retain the city's untreated water supply system and will seek an exemption from any Government moves to impose mandatory residual chlorination.

The work we are doing to upgrade our water supply network is best practice and will future-proof the network for Christchurch for many years to come.

Why is the Council now upgrading other parts of its network?
As part of our revised water safety plan submitted to the Drinking Water Assessor in September 2019, we needed to complete a thorough risk assessment of all parts of our water supply network. The Ministry of Health’s criteria for these risk assessments has changed since we completed our previous assessment last year, and there is now a much lower tolerance for risk. As a result, we are working to bring some other parts of the network up to a higher standard. Our intention is to prove we can provide safe drinking water without the need for permanent chlorine treatment.

What’s the problem with our reservoirs and suction tanks, and what’s being done about it?
There’s a risk of contamination in some of our reservoirs and suction tanks due to animals potentially getting into tanks through unprotected vents, overflows or open hatches, and due to cracks in some structures potentially allowing contaminated water to enter.

The work we’re undertaking is to install hatch alarms where these are absent, and to repair poor-condition roofs, hatches and seals, and to make sure we have mesh in place over vents and overflows.

We carry out regular assessments of all of our reservoirs and suction tanks and undertake any upgrades needed to bring them up to standard.

What’s ‘backflow’?
Backflow is one of the biggest risks to our water supply and happens when water flows backward from a customer’s property into the network. This can happen when pressure drops in the network and causes water (and potentially contaminants) to be sucked or pushed back into the public water supply.

To prevent backflow, most commercial and industrial property owners are required to install, maintain and annually test an appropriate backflow prevention device. For more information, please see: https://ccc.govt.nz/services/water-and-drainage/water-supply/connections/backflow-prevention(external link)

Have the upgrades to the well heads been a good investment?
Yes, it is very important work that needs to be completed to improve the security of our water supply. The work we are doing is best practice and will future-proof the network for Christchurch for many years to come. It also has other benefits as our new above ground well heads are much easier to access for ongoing maintenance. 

What does the chlorine do?
It kills the bacteria that can get into water supplies and spread disease, helping ensure supplies are safe to drink.

How safe is it?
Chlorine has been used safely all around the world for about 120 years. It keeps millions of people all over the globe – including in most of New Zealand – safe from waterborne illness.

Is the water safe to drink in the meantime?
Yes, tap water is still safe for people and pets to drink. The quality of the groundwater remains excellent and we test it daily to ensure it is free of bacterial contaminants.

Has chlorine been used in Christchurch’s water supply previously?
Yes – intermittently. We put chlorine in the water immediately after the Canterbury earthquakes. We also use it when bacterial transgressions are detected. 

Can I have a bath, wash vegies and do the dishes with chlorinated water?
Yes. There is no need to make any changes to how you use water.  

Is chlorinated water safe for people with health issues and those on dialysis?
There are no known health impacts from drinking water effectively treated with chlorine. The use of filters will mitigate any risks for those on dialysis. 

I don’t want chlorinated water. Is there anything I can do?
Chlorine and any associated by-products can be removed by using a granular activated carbon (GAC) filter. For fish tanks, sodium thiosulfate can be added at the prescribed dosage.

What are the Drinking Water Standards?
The Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand are issued by the Ministry of Health(external link) under the Health Act and set out the requirements water suppliers need to meet to provide safe water to their communities. The standards specify:

  • Maximum amounts of substances, organisms, contaminants and residues that may be present in drinking water.
  • Criteria for demonstrating compliance with standards.
  • Remedial action to be taken in the event of non-compliance with standards.

What if I have a skin condition or sensitivity to chlorine?
Chlorine can be an irritant for existing skin conditions such as asthma or eczema. If you feel your skin getting dry or itchy, use moisturiser after having a shower or bath. If you notice increased skin irritation, asthma symptoms or other symptoms, seek medical advice from your GP. To minimise exposure to chlorine, try bathing at times of low water demand – in the middle of day on weekdays, early in the morning (before 7.30am), or late in the evening (after 9.30pm).

In Canterbury, you can call you usual GP’s number after hours and your call will be put through to a nurse who can provide free health advice. You can also contact Healthline any time for free health advice on 0800 611 116.

What about my pet fish?
If you have fish in outside ponds you will need to either turn down in-coming water to an absolute trickle (this dilutes the chlorine level to a safe amount for your fish), or fill up drums of water and let them sit for at least 24 hours before using (the UV light from the sun evaporates chlorine). For fish tanks or bowls inside, fill up a container of water, let it sit for at least 24 hours and then only replace 1/3 of this water at a time with what is in the tank already. If you’re still worried, you can buy de-chlorinating kits (sodium thiosulfate) at pet supply stores. Water treated with chlorine is safe for other pets such as cats and dogs.

Do you use chlorine, or chloramine (chloramine is more toxic to fish)?
We use chlorine.

Will chlorination increase the release of lead from brass fittings, and will it change the frequency of replacement of sacrificial anodes in hot-water cylinders?
You can find answers to your questions about hot water cylinders and chlorine here.(external link)

Does chlorine cause cancer?
The International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) does not believe chlorinated water is either a probable, or even possible, cause of cancer.

Chlorine has been used safely all over the world for around 120 years. It keeps millions of people all round the world – including most of New Zealand – safe from waterborne illness.

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute acknowledges that “water chlorination is one of the major disease prevention achievements of the 20th century”, and that it “has become the principal means of effectively reducing waterborne enteric diseases”, which the World Health Organisation has stated account for a significant number of deaths every year, even in developed countries.

If you have any unanswered questions about water chlorination, you can email them to watersupply@ccc.govt.nz 

A hot water cylinder.

The temporary chlorination of Christchurch’s water supply has been linked with an increase in hot water cylinder failures. We've answered some of the frequently asked questions about the issue.

Why are hot water cylinders failing?

Christchurch has historically had issues with hot water cylinder failure. Certain areas of the city, such as Cashmere, have been affected more than others.

There are multiple factors that can lead to a hot water cylinder leaking, and then needing to be replaced. These include: the chemical composition of the water, the age of the cylinder, the type of cylinder, whether there is any debris in the cylinder, and the particulars of the installation.

We have been working with manufacturers and it appears the majority of the cylinders that are failing are reported as older, low-pressure copper cylinders.

What is your response to the 2018 University of Canterbury report on the issue?

We agree that the presence of chlorine in the water, along with the other factors noted in the report (such as temperature, details of installation and water chemistry), has contributed to the observed pitting corrosion. We similarly agree that pitting corrosion of hot water cylinders is likely to become more frequently observed.

Why are other parts of New Zealand not having large numbers of hot water cylinder failures?

The chemical composition of water supplies around the country is quite different.

Places like Auckland and Wellington use surface water (from rivers and streams) which generally develops a protective film when in contact with copper plumbing.

In Christchurch, we are using groundwater (from aquifers).

Pitting corrosion leading to pinhole failure happens more commonly in some bore water (underground) supplies.

In Hastings and Napier, for instance, they have bore water supplies and also experienced a rise in hot water cylinder failures following chlorination of their water networks. Napier and Hastings found the number of failing cylinders decreased over the year after chlorination was introduced.

What does the Council say to people who have had to repair or replace their cylinder? 

We understand that having to replace your hot water cylinder is a costly exercise and we also acknowledge that there has been an increase of hot water cylinders failing since the introduction of chlorine.

It’s important to remember there are multiple factors as to why pitting occurs in hot water cylinders. These include: chemical makeup of the water, age of the cylinder, type of cylinder used, debris in the cylinder, and the quality and thickness of copper used. Because of this, the Council is not compensating property owners.

We are continuing to monitor the situation and work with manufacturers and suppliers to gain further understanding. Work is also progressing on our well-head upgrade programme to reduce chlorine levels in our water. Most of the city is being dosed at 0.2 ppm chlorine, which is a fifth of the dose we first started treating the drinking water with.

What cylinders should I buy if I need to replace mine?

There are specific cylinders that are sold for areas where pitting corrosion is prevalent. If you are replacing your cylinder, talk to your plumber about the best option for your area. Some options include enamel-lined steel or stainless-steel cylinders.

Could chlorine also impact my gas systems or pipes?

There is no evidence of an increased number of failures in copper heat exchangers in gas continuous-flow units, copper water pipes, or other fittings.

We have been gradually lowering and removing the chlorine dose from the water supply as work to upgrade our well heads has been completed. 

The current approach is as follows:

  • Water supplied from well heads certified as secure by an independent expert and approved by the Drinking Water Assessor is chlorine-free.
  • Water supplied from well heads certified as secure by an independent expert but not yet approved by the Drinking Water Assessor (i.e. in audit phase) is dosed at 0.2 parts per million (ppm).
  • Where we need to use unsecure wells while we drill new deeper ones, the dose is 0.5 or 1 ppm, depending on whether the first customer is within one or two minutes of the pump station.

The map at the top of this webpage is regularly updated to show the target dose for each site.

There are 53 pump stations across the city. While you will be primarily supplied by one pump station, if you are midway between pump stations, sometimes you may be getting the water from one pump station and sometimes the other. The level of chlorine in those pump stations may be different. If you live close to the pump station, the chlorine dose you get coming out of your kitchen tap will be higher than if you live further away.

If you are concerned about the taste, you can keep drinking water in an open jug in the fridge. The chlorine taste will dissipate naturally over a few hours.

Chlorine and any associated by-products can removed by using a granulated, activated carbon (GAC) filter. These are available from hardware supply stores and water filter companies.

Drinking water

There are no known health impacts from drinking water treated with chlorine and it is safe for pregnant women to drink.

The quality of the groundwater remains excellent and it is tested daily to ensure it is free of bacterial contaminants.

The amount of chlorine dosed into the water supply will be carefully managed to ensure levels of chlorine in the water people drink are minimised. We are favouring the use of pump stations that don’t need chlorine treatment as much as possible.

Dialysis

The use of filters prevents any risks for those on dialysis. This is arranged by the Canterbury District Health Board.

Skin conditions or sensitivity

Chlorine can be an irritant for existing skin conditions such as asthma or eczema. If you feel your skin getting dry or itchy, use moisturiser after having a shower or bath. If you notice increased skin irritation, asthma symptoms or other symptoms, seek medical advice from your GP.

To minimise exposure to chlorine, try bathing at times of low water demand – in the middle of day on weekdays, early in the morning (before 7.30am), or late in the evening (after 9.30pm).

Health advice

In Canterbury, you can call you usual GP’s number after hours and your call will be put through to a nurse who can provide free health advice. You can also contact Healthline any time for free health advice on 0800 611 116.

Treated water is safe for household pets such as cats and dogs to drink.

If you have fish in outside ponds you will need to either turn down in-coming water to an absolute trickle (this dilutes the chlorine level to a safe amount for your fish), or fill up drums of water and let them sit for at least 24 hours before using (the UV of the sun evaporates chlorine).

For fish tanks or bowls inside, fill up a container of water and let it sit for at least 24 hours and then only replace one third of this water at a time with what is in the tank already. If you’re still worried, you can buy de-chlorinating kits (sodium thiosulfate) at pet supply stores.

Chlorinating in Christchurch

The Christchurch water supply is made up of several zones that operate independently of each other. While the main city urban supply is being temporarily chlorinated, supplies for Akaroa, Duvauchelle, Little River and Takamatua are permanently chlorinated. We will also be temporarily chlorinating the supply to Wainui.

We have to chlorinate the water supply because the below-ground well heads on the groundwater wells servicing our city are no longer deemed secure. Monitoring shows there is a very small risk of contamination entering the water supply through the well heads. Public health professionals advised us we needed to chlorinate to provide an extra layer of protection, just in case.

The chlorine dosing takes place at pump stations across the city. From the pump station, the water flows directly out into our water reticulation system across the city.

Water treatment in Christchurch.

Drinking water in Christchurch is being temporarily treated with chlorine.

There are four pump stations where the well heads are secure and there is no chlorine needed - Estuary, Keyes, Prestons and Gardiners. 

How it works

Water chlorination is the process of adding chlorine to the water supply to keep it safe from harmful bacteria. Sodium hypochlorite is used in Christchurch. It can be added as a precaution after routine work, such as reservoir cleaning, or as a result of finding bacteria in the water supply during routine water sampling.

Chlorine is a powerful oxidising agent. As it travels through the system, it will react with any organic matter, such as slime build-up in the pipes. It might also react with iron in the old cast-iron mains and it will react with any other organic material it comes across.

A temporary measure

The Council (governance) has authorised temporary chlorination of the drinking water supply. It has also resolved that, long term, it wants to retain the city's untreated water supply system and will oppose any Government moves to impose mandatory permanent chlorination.

Answering your questions(external link)

What the Drinking Water Standards say

A water supply well head

An above-ground well head.

In order for groundwater to be provided without the need for treatment, three criteria must be met:

  1. The bore water must not be directly affected by surface or climatic influences (i.e. the water is at least a year old, by which time any pathogens will have died)
  2. The well head must provide satisfactory protection to prevent contamination of the water supply
  3. E. coli must be absent from the bore water.

To meet the first criteria, every five years we test the age of the water in a selection of wells and undertake groundwater modelling of our aquifers.

To meet the second criteria, we have an independent expert in well-head security regularly assess all well heads, with each inspected once every five years.

Our regular testing for bacteria and lack of transgressions provides the evidence to satisfy the third criteria.

This information is provided to the Drinking Water Assessor to demonstrate that our groundwater supply is secure.


About our water infrastructure

The Council has 104 wells with below-ground well heads and 36 wells with above-ground well heads. There are 53 pump stations that supply water across the network. 

A well head is the physical structure at the top of the well that connects to the water supply network.

All new well heads are built above ground to improve the resilience and safety of the wells and the security of our water supply, and this has been Council’s approach for all new wells drilled since the earthquakes.


The impact of Havelock North's drinking water contamination

A below-ground well head

Some below-ground well heads were identified as needing repairs.

After the earthquakes, the Council was granted provisionally secure status for its water supply. Well-head security assessments were done with 20 per cent of the well heads being assessed each year, meaning the entire network was completed over five years.

In May 2017, the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry Stage 1 report was released. It identified below-ground well heads as a possible source of water contamination. The Council asked its maintenance contractor, Citycare, to investigate the condition of its below-ground well heads.

In August that year an improvement programme began to address the potential pathways for contamination via well heads – sealing cracks, raising air vents, etc.

In December 2017, the Stage 2 Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry report was released. That same month, the Council’s well-head security expert did assessments of 25 well heads. They applied a stricter interpretation of the standards and found that the well heads were no longer regarded as being secure from contamination. Shortly afterwards, the Drinking Water Assessor advised the Council that its groundwater supply was no longer provisionally secure.

In January, on the advice of staff and the Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, the Council decided to temporarily chlorinate the water supply for up to 12 months while its well-head upgrades were completed.


What the Government is doing

The Government is undertaking a nationwide review of "Three Waters" (drinking, storm and waste) and considering its response to the recommendations of the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry. These include the formation of a single regulatory body and a review of the Drinking Water Standards. Among the recommendations of the Havelock North Drinking Water Inquiry are:

  1. The mandatory treatment of drinking water supplies in New Zealand to protect all water supplies from bacterial and protozoal contamination
  2. Removing the “secure bore water” status from the Drinking Water Standards of New Zealand
  3. Prohibiting new below-ground well heads
  4. The creation of a single water regulator in New Zealand
  5. That the Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand be reviewed.

What we're doing

We're upgrading our well heads so they meet the new, stricter interpretation of the Drinking Water Standards. Once well heads are fully signed off as secure, temporary chlorination can stop at those sites.

Most well heads will be converted to above-ground well heads to further improve their security and to make them easier and safer to access for maintenance. There will be some new wells drilled. Other work is also being done on suction tanks, reservoirs and backflow prevention to provide protection from contamination in line with the stricter interpretation of the standards.

Our work is being carried out so that it meets best practice for water supply infrastructure and future-proofs the network for the city.

Find out more about our well head improvements.

Temporary chlorination milestones

Post-earthquakes

Post-earthquakes

Below-ground well heads declared provisionally secure with regular assessments done.

May 2017

May 2017

The Havelock North inquiry stage 1 report is released and identifies below-ground well heads as a possible source of water contamination. The Council gets its contractor to investigate the condition of its below-ground well heads.

August 2017

August 2017

In response to the investigation of below-ground well heads, the Council begins an improvement programme.

December 2017

December 2017

New security assessments are done and find that the well heads assessed do not meet the standard to be declared secure. The Drinking Water Assessor advises that the water supply is no longer provisionally secure.

25 January 2018

25 January 2018

Following discussions with the Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, the Council decides to temporarily treat the city’s water supply while the well-head upgrade work is done. It is expected to take about two months to set up temporary chlorination.

26 March 2018

26 March 2018

The Council begins temporary chlorination of the city’s water supply.

28 May 2018

28 May 2018

The Council is given approval by the Drinking Water Assessor to begin lowering chlorine doses.

22 November 2018

22 November 2018

The Council approves temporary remediation of some below-ground well heads, in order to fast-track upgrades.

16 July 2019

16 July 2019

The Council is advised that the Drinking Water Assessor is no longer able to approve well-head security reports. This means that upgraded well heads cannot be deemed 'secure' and that the pump stations fed by those well heads must continue to be chlorinated.

30 September 2019

30 September 2019

The chlorine dose is reduced to 0.2 parts per million (ppm) at all operational pump stations needing chlorination. At 0.2ppm, the taste and smell of chlorine in the drinking water is very low, if not imperceptible.

30 September 2019

30 September 2019

The Council submits its Christchurch and Lyttelton Harbour Basin Water Safety Plan to the Drinking Water Assessor for review. The revised plan involved a rigorous assessment of all risks to the water supply network and the current and future steps for managing them. The review is ongoing.

On 16 October 2018 we released the findings of the independent review, Management of Bore Water Security undertaken by consultant Bruce Robertson. [PDF, 140 KB]

In his review, Mr Robertson acknowledged the Havelock North drinking water contamination incident in 2016, which resulted in a widespread gastroenteritis outbreak, resulted in more rigorous assessment processes being applied by external assessors to the drinking water standards.

The review identified a number of issues within the Council’s Three Waters Unit, including:

  • A lack of a cohesive system to manage compliance with all three criteria required for bore-water security. The Three Waters Unit over-relied on one of the criteria requiring E.coli to be absent from the water. It needed to provide more reporting on the other two, which are security of the water source and whether it was possible for contaminants to enter the water supply through the well heads.
  • A general failure to escalate the developing issue with the below-ground well heads.

The review says it is unlikely that solving the above issues earlier would have prevented the loss of secure bore status and the subsequent temporary chlorination of our drinking water.

The report was commissioned by then-chief executive Dr Karleen Edwards.

For more information

You can email specific questions to watersupply@ccc.govt.nz or call 03 941 8999 or 0800 800 169.