Stuff are reporting that Hawkes Bay Regional Council have laid charges against Hastings District Council "after Havelock North gastro investigation". So now we know who is to blame for one death and thousands of cases of gastroenteritis? Not even slightly. Hysterical headline writing but totally misleading.
To date no cause for the water contamination has been found. And this report doesn't even hint that such a cause has been found.
Regional councils have no role in regulating the supply of potable water. HBRC have a general responsibility for protecting water catchments but it is the Ministry of Health that is the regulator in this case. So HBRC cannot charge HDC for any water supply contamination offences.
So what the hell are they up to?
Generally a consent to take water is about quantity of take. It is regional councils' responsibility to manage water sources with an eye to sustainability. (As an aside it is Canterbury Regional Council's sluggishness in exercising this responsibility that lead to commissioners being appointed there.) But they have another responsibility for managing water quality (in broad terms) meaning that a consent can also seek to ensure that the taking of water doesn't also lead to polluting of water sources. So HDC have been charged with breaches of their consent to take water (for whatever purpose - it's not really the regional council's business). And those breaches are related to measures to protect ground water from surface water pollution via the well. These could be actual failures or they could be a failure to maintain adequate records - we don't know yet. We don't know which bores these charges relate to; they could be completely unrelated. And we don't know whether the "maintenance failure" could have lead to the contamination or not.
This is an extraordinary step by HBRC for two reasons. The first is that the hearing of these charges will take place on the same day the government inquiry into the water contamination starts. The second and more prosaic reason is that breaches of water consents rarely lead to prosecution; most regional councils nudge offenders towards compliance with prosecution being a last resort for repeat offenders.
My take is that HBRC are very sensitive. The water source for the Havelock North water scheme is in the Tukituki River catchment. This is the same river that HBRC is planning to dam and sell irrigation water from. They have been severely criticised on a number of fronts for this plan not least because they are both the commercial promoter and regulator of the same activity. Other have criticised HBRC for allowing intensification of agriculture (especially dairying) in the Tukituki when it is a source of drinking water.
All in all, Hawkes Bay Regional Council are highly incentivised to direct attention away from themselves because they are hopelessly conflicted over that whole catchment.
If Canterbury Regional Council's minor sin of sloth was worthy of sending in the commissioners I do not understand why there is not an army of government officials heading north today to take over the Hawkes Bay Regional Council.