Wellington Scoop

120-year-old sewage pipe rescues overflow from 90-year-old pipe

Wellington Scoop
The sewage tunnel that collapsed under the CBD last week was dug by hand in the 1930s.

This fact was uncovered in a report by the DomPost’s Joel Maxwell, who asked Wellington Water’s chief executive if there had been underspending on wastewater infrastructure, to be told he was “comfortable” with the way it managed the pipes.

Not everyone would share his comfort. And there’s worse:

Even older pipes are being used to stop the sewage overflow. The temporary fix has diverted the sewage into a disused 1890s culvert. RNZ reported the age of the pipe and quoted Mr Crampton as saying “it may not be too reliable.”

All of which makes it impossible to believe the claim on the Wellington City Council’s website that

Wellington’s sewerage network has been continually improved over the years to reach the high standards we have today.

Also open to question is the city council’s claim that it manages the sewer network and

performs regular maintenance, upgrade and renewal programmes.

These issues are highlighted today in a DomPost report which says Wellington Water has a backlog of 920 leaks in its water system across Wellington, Hutt Valley, and Porirua. It quotes Colin Crampton as saying

There are pipes beneath Wellington made of asbestos and cement, cast iron, and earthenware. The number of complaints about leaks has increased since the 7.8-magnitude quake in Kaikōura, suggesting that was partly to blame. “All of them are coming to the end of their useful life.”

Newly-elected councillor Sean Rush, who is responsible for the “three waters” portfolio, agreed:

Wellington’s pipes were coming to the end of their lives and “how we deal with it is still being considered”, he said. Replacing the entire network in one go was not feasible because of the massive disruption and cost, so he suspected the council would land on a 20 to 30-year programme of replacement.

The DomPost quotes mayor Andy Foster as saying:

“We spend about $180 million at the moment per year, so that’s about half a million dollars per day on infrastructure, that’s the three waters. Over a period of time we’re looking to increase that, because as the pipes age then you need to replace more of them.” Foster said there were lessons to be learnt from the incident, “particularly around the frequency of inspection of critical pipes”. “It helps us to learn as governors to be able to ask some more questions of Wellington Water and of our asset managers.”


  1. Lyall Bay (Maraenui), 23. December 2019, 9:26

    Going to float this – let’s make sure no $$ are used on vanity projects (Shelly Bay, 2nd Mt Vic Tunnel. Movie Museum) until we know our infrastructure is up to scratch and can support the population we have here now, a strong harbour is important for the mental health of our city. [via twitter]

  2. michael, 23. December 2019, 14:47

    It seems to be well past time the WCC revisited their primary responsibilities under the Local Government Act 2002, which are as follows:
    1.To enable democratic local decision-making and action by, and on behalf of, communities.
    2.To meet the current and future needs of communities for good-quality local infrastructure, local public services and performance of regulatory functions in a way that is most cost-effective for households and businesses.
    Going by the current infrastructure failure(s), they are not doing a very good job of meeting these obligations.

  3. TrevorH, 23. December 2019, 16:33

    Sack the Council and the GWRC, appoint commissioners. This city’s systems on every level are collapsing through mismanagement, neglect and incompetence.

  4. Brendan, 23. December 2019, 18:14

    I second that TrevorH. Time for action to stop the inaction.

  5. steve doole, 25. December 2019, 8:59

    Thirty something years ago my brother was renewing pipes in the Basin Reserve area of Te Aro for WCC – pipes made of wood, already 100 years old. Perhaps that replacement programme didn’t get completed.
    The lack of a chief engineer is one factor.

  6. Dave B, 25. December 2019, 10:11

    “how we deal with it is still being considered”. . !

    What has the council been considering for the past 30 years? A rolling program of renewals should have been underway all this time, based on known condition of all parts of the asset. This should be the council’s bread-and-butter. Somehow over the past few decades, amidst mayoral-vanity and overpaid chief executives, it has seriously lost its way.

  7. Hel, 5. January 2020, 19:47

    Steve, totally agree somewhere the make up of management at Council has totally changed and the lack of a chief engineer is just one of many glaring short comings. Professional career bureaucrats, most of them with no connection to Wellington and few with the real skills or experience to run Council and we are surprised they can’t get their core functions right. Can’t see much changing, sadly.

  8. Concerned Wellingtonian, 6. January 2020, 7:08

    I agree that the total lack of any “connection to Wellington” has been a terrible problem. It climaxed during the last three years and must never be repeated.

  9. michael, 6. January 2020, 19:47

    I note Wellington also has an incorrectly laid pipe under Cuba St which has been discharging sewage into Wellington Harbour. It appears contractors mistakenly connected the wastewater pipe (sewerage) to a stormwater pipe. Wellington Water advised that, once they tracked down the building owner, “the pipes could be corrected within a day, although it could take longer” and they “imagined” that the building owner would “want to work pretty quickly to get it remedied” Really!!! Why aren’t the council demanding that Wellington Water get it fixed immediately either with or with or without the building manager. And what are the consequences for the contractor whose incompetence caused this in the first place? And who pays for it all?

  10. Keith Flinders, 7. January 2020, 10:55

    Michael: As this is a health hazard it ought to be remedied immediately by Wellington Water. They may not be aware of who the contractor was, let alone when the error was made ?

    Ultimately contractor ought to be the one paying for remedial work, but in the first instance the building owner is responsible.

    Is this another case of where the work was self certified, and not inspected as it would have been in the more regulated past.

  11. michael, 7. January 2020, 22:08

    Keith: It is nothing like the “operational old days” when councils managed and did the work, instead of losing control and contracting all their responsibilities to the private sector. Well past time for a change.

  12. michael, 8. January 2020, 9:42

    Good grief and now we find out there are more cross-connected wastewater and stormwater pipes and that sewerage has been flowing into the harbour for at least 10 years from an apartment block in Cuba Street. No word from the council! But they can just sit back and blame Wellington Water. Well WCC it is your responsibility, that’s what we pay our very expensive rates for. To get the basics right which, in the first instance is Wellington’s infrastructure.
    I am sick of paying for the vanity projects, the council legal fees to battle their mistakes, and the number of media people employed to produce fancy communications etc which do nothing, while Wellington continues to slide backwards.

  13. Gillybee, 8. January 2020, 11:30

    “Is this another case of where the work was self certified, and not inspected as it would have been in the more regulated past.” Well said Keith. The practice of “self-regulation” is the real culprit here. It’s cheap but creates conflicts of interest, with the public the losers. It’s what links Pike River, leaky buildings & Whakaari/White Island, to this.

    The Nats’ response to Pike was to throttle us with a compliance culture via their health and safety legislation, which is not the same as properly funded regulatory bodies peopled by industry experts, as we used to have in the mines inspectorate for example, who could target the individuals who broke the rules, yet were able to exercise a degree of discretion in other cases. That’s gone: replaced by a “process and procedure” mentality, which is no substitute for thinking.

    Simon Bridge’s promise to have a “regulations bonfire” should he win office scares me. Too many will confuse ‘regulation’ with ‘compliance’ and think it’s a good thing.

  14. Mark Shanks, 8. January 2020, 13:05

    I have always been mystified why WCC closes Lyall Bay because of wastewater contamination after a high rainfall event. There should be no connection between stormwater pipes and wastewater pipes. Now I know differently, as revealed in the Cuba St fiasco – both systems are hooked up together! My previous theory re Lyall Bay, which even I found hard to swallow, was that the sewerage treatment plant at Moa Point deliberately discharges during a high rainfall event to reduce the volumes of shit they are supposed to be processing?

  15. Casey, 8. January 2020, 13:58

    Mark: Your Lyall Bay theory is actually what happens at the Karori South treatment facility where at times storm water overloads sewers and some of the raw stuff gets shot down a stream to eventually make its way out to Cook Strait. Been happening for decades and with the GWRC,WCC and Wellington Water effectively being one in the same for three waters regulation the GWRC has again extended the time frame this discharge is allowed to happen.

  16. Mark Shanks, 9. January 2020, 9:34

    Thanks Casey. Decades of ocean abuse! We should be getting better at reducing and treating waste with all the technological advances over the last few decades but it’s only getting worse. Indeed we now have more waste but no infrastructure upgrades or innovative and advanced solutions to deal with it. Dumping it in the ocean is the perennial fall back position.