In late 1984, approximately 3500 Queenstown residents died from vomiting and/or diarrhea when raw sewage entered Lake Wakatipu near a two-mile water main.
The gastroenteritis outbreak, which affected 60 to 70 percent of the town’s then much smaller population, was alarming, especially for locals who had always been proud of their pristine landscape.
The outbreak was caused by sewer blockages in Fernhill and Sunshine Bay.
A brick wrapped around a tree root apparently invaded the line, causing raw sewage to back up through an adjacent manhole and into Falls Creek.
The creek flows into the lake about 200m from the water supply below Glenorchy Rd.
The polluted creek, hidden in thick brush, was discovered by wildlife officer Dick Marquand, who was walking nearby.
After being alerted, city crews cleared the clogged sewer within hours.
The discovery comes weeks after people visited doctors’ offices and pharmacies with cases of vomiting and diarrhoea.
Ironically, doctors advised the first cases to drink more fluids to flush out the virus.
Of course, when that didn’t work, doctors blew the whistle and water samples were sent to the public health laboratory in Dunedin on October 23.
Unfortunately there was a postal delay when they were sent to the Invercargill Health Officer’s Office.
On November 1, when it was finally proven that the water supply was seriously contaminated, a public health warning was issued.
Residents and visitors are advised to boil all water for at least the next 48 hours, and water supplies are temporarily chlorinated – with council staff draining half the water from reservoirs and topping up with chlorinated water.
All food, party ice and apothecary medicines that used the town’s water supply were destroyed, and even the ice cream-making machines that also used water were shut down.
Five elderly people had to be hospitalized, but considering so many people dropped like flies, the town is considered lucky that there were no more serious consequences.
In particular, there are concerns that those with gastroenteritis may die from the more severe form of hepatitis A.
Lake County health inspector at the time, the late Colin Walker, also advised holiday home owners that when they next returned to Queenstown they should run their taps for 15 minutes to flush the system.
By November 3, Queenstown’s water network was “all clear”.
in a mountain view In an editorial five days later, acting editor Alan Brady wrote: “There is no doubt that this town narrowly escaped a catastrophe that could have destroyed it in an instant for more than a hundred years To build a reputation for cleanliness and beauty.”
“In fact, the damage is quite significant.
“Hundreds of local residents and an unknown number of visitors suffered painful and debilitating gastroenteritis.
“If nothing else, this incident illustrates the need for the strictest public health standards at resorts, which are almost entirely reliant on their own health.”
Reputation to survive.
“Hygiene-conscious American and Japanese tourists will not appreciate being told that the illnesses that are ruining their vacations are caused by sewage entering hotel water systems.
“Since the council started pumping water from the lake about five years ago, Queenstown’s water has remained in a completely clean health condition with no bacterial issues.
“We were told that the clogged sewer that stained the copybook was a freak event that could not have been predicted or prevented.
“It is reassuring that local doctors and health inspectors have been monitoring the situation from early on.
“It’s absolutely disturbing to know that it took nine days for Dunedin to get the results of its water analysis.
“There seems little point in setting up a chlorination plant for emergency treatment of the water supply if it will take weeks to determine whether an emergency exists.
“Shooting the stable door after the horse escapes may not save Queenstown’s reputation again.
“Permanent chlorination of the water supply may be the price the town has to pay for peace of mind.”
Subsequently, Queenstown’s water system was permanently chlorinated, which prevented a lot of things, but unfortunately, no encryption.