The inquiry into Wellington Water will look at the reasons for the failure to fluoridate, as well as broader systemic problems within the water entity.
On Monday afternoon, Wellington Water released the scope of an independent inquiry into its failure to fluoridate water in Wellington, Upper Hutt, and Porirua.
Wellington Water originally said it had not fluoridated Wellington’s water for over a month – then it retracted that information and revealed that water had not been fluoridated for up to 10 months, news that left dental experts shocked and appalled.
The chairwoman of Wellington Water’s Board, Lynda Carroll, said “the board wishes to apologise to the people of Wellington who, quite rightly, had an expectation that their water would be fluoridated. We also wish to acknowledge the concern this situation has caused”.
The questions for the inquiry, set by the board, include: how the management of the water treatment plants led to fluoridation stopping; what information was provided to the board; and what was communicated with councils, iwi representatives, and the public about fluoridation.
The inquiry will also look into the findings of a technical report about the Te Marua and Gear Island plants where fluoridation stopped in 2021.
Doug Martin, of public policy consultancy firm Martin Jenkins, will conduct the inquiry.
Martin has also been asked to make comment on “any broader systemic matters that he considers relevant”. He will run a workshop for the board on the key issues during May.
The final report of the inquiry will be presented to the Wellington Water board by May 31. It will provide recommendations on best management in the future
Carroll? said the findings and information would both be made public “to ensure this situation does not occur again”.
She? said the inquiry was “a vital step to achieving this clarity” around how the situation occurred.
Sean Rush, the Wellington City Council representative on the Wellington Water committee, said he was “comfortable” the terms of reference were broad enough “to let Doug do what he needs to do”.
He thought the terms were sufficiently focused on fluoridation and would leave room for assessment of the “very surprising” asset management processes at the ageing water treatment plants.
Wellington Water will continue to provide updates on when fluoridation issues are likely to be fixed.
The current estimate was that, with repaired equipment, they could fix the problems at Te Marua by the end of April – providing fluoridated water to the western suburbs of Wellington, Porirua, and Upper Hutt.
For the rest of Wellington, there is no estimate for when issues with fluoridation will be fixed. The Gear Island water treatment plant needs an entirely new fluoride system.