It’s Wednesday afternoon in Petone’s main street, and it’s feeling pretty sleepy.
But one place has a constant stream of eager customers: The Petone Spring.
Nicola Kane, from Papakowhai, has been coming to the spring for about six months. She started questioning what was in her tap water when her daughter became ill with a chronic pain condition.
“I come here because of all the hideous chemicals they put in the water,” she says. “My daughter’s condition is related to low thyroid function, and the fluoride they put in the water is not good for that.”
Ms Kane says she enjoys coming to the Petone Spring.
“I often chat to people here,” she says. “I meet really nice people.”
Ray Randle comes from Upper Hutt. He gets enough water for drinking from the spring.
“Just because we like the taste of it.”
But he’s been a devoted artesian water drinker for at least 10 years – he used to gather the water from a tap on the side of Settlers Museum, before the Te Puna Ora Spring was put up in Buick St in 2003.
Whitby resident, Jo Clarke, says her tap water doesn’t taste bad, but she likes the spring water better because it’s natural. She’s been getting water from the spring for a few years.
“I just like the thought of it,” she says.
Cliff Wood, who lived and worked in Petone for many years, now lives in Upper Hutt.
“I put it into the kettle and in the fridge for drinking water,” he says. “I think it’s much healthier with my medications.”
He says tap water is full of chloride and he does not like the taste.
“I’ve been coming here for 15 years. What you drink and eat is what you are,” he says.
The Petone Spring water comes from the waters of the Hutt River, which enters the artesian aquifer at Taita Gorge in the north of the valley.
The water is naturally filtered through the gravels and sands of the Hutt valley over several years before reaching the Petone foreshore.
Petone naturopath Deborah Wright says from her perspective, the purer the water Leg 1the better, and tap water ought to be avoided owing to the high heavy metal content of iron and copper. She also does not agree with fluoride being added to the water: “It’s just like the argument about folic acid being added to our food,” she says. “People ought to be able to choose for themselves.”
But she would like some ‘hard and fast’ proof that the water coming through the spring is as good as it is purported to be.
“Twice I have asked the Hutt City Council to give me a breakdown of the mineral content in the water and I’ve heard nothing back,” she says.
The Ministry of Health also cautions people about tap water. In February of this year, it advised people to flush a mug full of water from the tap in the morning, to avoid consuming the metals that may have dissolved from pipes in the night.
The Hutt City Council (HCC) recommends its residents do not use fluoridated water to make baby formula milk.
US and Australian research has revealed that excessive fluoride in a baby’s diet in the first year of life can lead to fluorosis, which causes tooth staining and brittleness in both baby teeth and adult teeth. Boiling water is more likely to increase the fluoride content than reduce it.
On the HCC website, advice is given on how to avoid fluoridated water, and gathering it from the Petone Spring is one suggestion.
According to Brian Smith, an engineer at Capacity, which manages Water in the Hutt, Petone and Korokoro are the only areas in the Wellington region who do not receive fluoridated water through the tap.
“I think that was a political decision. Petone had never had it, and didn’t want it.”
He says around 250,000 litres of water per month is drawn from the Buick St spring.
“If your average person took 20 litres each visit, that would mean approximately 12,500 visits are made to the spring each month.”
The water is tested weekly for bacteria, he says, and every three months Environmental Laboratory Services (ELS) carry out a complete chemistry analysis of Petone Spring water. ELS General Manager Rob Deacon says the water is of excellent quality. “Better than Evian, and it’s free,” he says.
But he thinks the council ‘undersells’ Hutt tap water however, because it is some of the “best tap water in the world”.
Unlike for the rest of Wellington region, no chloride is added to Hutt tap water at all.
“They only add a little bit of fluoride and some lime to balance the pH.”
The sculpture at the spring, Te Puna Wai Ora, was designed by NZ artist Louise Purvis and symbolises a water oasis, a place of rest, refreshment and exploration.
But with the number of people constantly drawing water from the spring, there is not a lot of rest going on in Buick St.