Water pollution in St Mary’s Bay

The water quality in St Mary’s Bay, Westhaven and other western bays has been an issue for the SMBA for many years. The primary concern stems from unplanned discharges of sewage, usually in periods of high rainfall, leading to sewage being mixed with stormwater in the ageing combined wastewater drainage system. However, that concern is now compounded by Auckland Council’s desire for inner city intensification and the consequent strain on already inadequate sewerage and stormwater infrastructure.

In January 2016 a very high bacteria reading was recorded near one of the outfalls in St Mary’s Bay, at a time when there had been no, or no significant, rainfall for some three weeks. In our view this demonstrated that the problem was the aging and failing infrastructure rather than just mixing of waste and storm water.

We wrote to Watercare seeking prompt solutions. We were probably one of several voices. Watercare responded by setting up a working group comprising itself, Auckland Council, Panuku Development Auckland and Auckland Transport to investigate water quality in St Mary’s Bay/Westhaven. That group has come up with several proposals, some short term and some medium term, to improve water quality pending a major project to install major new infrastructure – the Central Interceptor – to collect sewage from the Western Bays for transmission to the Mangere treatment plant. Costs are estimated at more than $1 billion. The start date has been deferred to 2019 and the project is expected to take 10 years to complete. However, the Central Interceptor is only part of the solution – the old clay pipes may need to be replaced as well.

You will have received a flyer in your letterbox in January outlining these proposals. SMBA was told last year that it would be consulted as a stakeholder. We intend to pursue that.

Auckland Waitemata and Gulf ward councillor Mike Lee is lobbying hard for Auckland Council to address this expensive problem, which he says has been swept under the carpet for too long. Read his summary of the situation on his website http://www.mikelee.co.nz/2017/03/aucklands-dirty-secret-can-we-handle-the-truth/
A similar article appears in his column in the March 2017 issue of the Ponsonby News.

You may also have read the series of articles published in the NZ Herald (links below) in January 2017 about the drainage infrastructure issues affecting water quality around Auckland generally – although mainly in the central and Western Bays areas. It is a big problem, and requiring a big spend on renewal of infrastructure to fix it.

Our concern is that the cost will either lead to truncated remedial options or will cause it to be delayed. Our view is that this must be done right and soon. We are working with our local city councillor, Mike Lee, and with our neighbours in the Western Bays, to understand the proposals and press for early and effective remedies. We will report on this as the year goes on.