Wellington Scoop

Apoocalypse now

Photo via Twitter from OrientalBayNZ

by Lindsay Shelton
A few hours after it announced another sewage spill into the harbour, Wellington Water tweeted today that its offices were closing at midday. It’s on holiday till January 3. I couldn’t help thinking of how the Australian Prime Minister faced widespread criticism for holidaying in Hawaii when Australia was on fire.

As Wellington Water began its holiday, most of Wellington’s harbour beaches had “no swimming” signs, because of pollution from the sewage overflow. It took Wellington Water three days to stop the spillage, with repairs that are “temporary and fragile,” and involve big pipes on the surface of Willis Street for the next two months or more.

Wellington Water’s holiday announcement today says its social media will also be inactive till January 3. By that, I assume they mean their communications people. So till the 3rd we won’t have anyone to tell us what’s going on, and whether things are getting better, or worse.

Two of their last two communications today did sound a bit distracted. First they said the new sewage spill in Eastbourne was minor. Then they said it was intermittent. And then they tried again and said they were unable to confirm the volume of the discharge. (Update: just before 5pm they said the spill had been contained, but “no swimming” signs would remain for two more days.)

Not everyone is having a holiday. The announcement says that Wellington Waterfront’s crews will continue working. Staff? Or contractors? No Christmas break for the workers on the streets.

And what should we do if there’s another problem, and Wellington Water isn’t answering its phones or responding to emails? Here’s their advice:

Please contact your local council if you’re experiencing any water issues.

And if our local council is also on holiday?

We’ll just have to put up with it, I suppose. But let’s hope that the holidaying Wellington Water people are having a good time and not worrying about anything that might be happening at home.

It makes you agree with Dave Armstrong. In the DomPost today he writes that it seems ridiculous to hear politicians talking up movie museums, second car tunnels, indoor stadiums, runway extensions and new tourism events, when our archaic sewage and stormwater systems are in desperate need of replacement:

I propose a city-wide rāhui on all vanity projects and ideas to attract more tourists to Wellington. In fact, let’s ask tourists not to come here. How about a “Don’t Come to Wellington Until We’ve Sorted Out Our Shit…” campaign.

(Except the DomPost deleted the word shit, and left us to guess what he meant. Did I guess correctly?)

And thank you Dave for introducing apoocalypse as another word into the Wellington vocabulary.

Merry Kirihimete to you too while you’re away, Wellington Water. If you’re holidaying at a beach, I hope the seawater is clean and there aren’t any “no swimming” signs.

NZHerald: Who’s to blame?


  1. greenwelly, 24. December 2019, 16:34

    The “temporary and fragile” solution was using 120 year old pipes to take the flow from the pipe that broke. This has now been superceded by the above ground pipes that appear anything but fragile. But as an aside the closure of upper Willis Street for a few months to allow for repairs should provide a indication of how that part of the city will behave if they move to stop private cars using lower Willis as part of LGWM.

  2. michael, 24. December 2019, 18:43

    Given that the council website states that “wastewater pipes have a life of about 80 years,” would our new Mayor, who has been on the council for 27 years, explain how the WCC can claim “Wellington’s sewerage network has been continually improved over the years to reach the high standards we have today”, when we clearly have 90 year old infrastructure that is failing.

    Has there not been a wastewater replacement plan developed to upgrade the system, or has the council just concentrated on “patching up” when necessary to enable them to fund their vanity projects? Surely one of the council’s main functions should be to ensure Wellington’s infrastructure is fit for purpose and upgraded in a timely and efficient manner. Is it not time we went back to having a City Engineer and experts to ensure these things happen?

  3. Dan Tosfery, 25. December 2019, 8:07

    Happy Christmas everybody. I’m having a leisurely time sitting on my fence doing some anagram teasers with ScoMo. Some people don’t understand that we leaders do need a time-out from all the crap that comes our way.

  4. Marion Leader, 25. December 2019, 8:09

    michael, please ask for the “wastewater replacement plan developed to upgrade the system” and let us know what you think of it.
    Sorry to leave it to you but I can’t do everything myself and I am not as technical as you are.

  5. Daryl Cockburn, 25. December 2019, 11:05

    In 1984 I was the first architect for Stage 1 of the Civic Square: the Municipal Office Bldg (MOB). When I told the WCC they’d have to vacate it whilst getting lightweight filling of lightwell & extra height, I was sacked. I was told the $45million Mayor’s Fund for new drains would be diverted to an extra MOB & an underground carpark.

  6. Farmer Bill, 25. December 2019, 14:30

    Daryl – you are a people’s planner and architect.

  7. Hel, 25. December 2019, 19:56

    There is not a single person on the Council Senior exec team who has any experience relating to infrastructure and yet the Council is basically an infrastructure provider. How did we get to this state of affairs? Don’t see this improving until senior public servants are suitably qualified and work in the public interest not as sycophants for the then Mayor and Councillors only seeking to please.

  8. Henry Filth, 25. December 2019, 23:50

    Hel, that’s a very scary point.

  9. steve doole, 26. December 2019, 6:47

    Did WCC used to publish how many miles of pipe were renewed – perhaps sent with annual bills to ratepayers ?

  10. Eric Blair, 26. December 2019, 9:22

    @Hel-the most important ‘department’ is ‘COMS’ trumpeting our glorious Council; it is certainly not Engineering and Maintenance!

  11. michael, 26. December 2019, 9:56

    The most concerning thing about this major infrastructure failure are the comments made in Stuff by Wellington city councillor Sean Rush, now responsible for our wastewater infrastructure. Not only did he admit that Wellington’s pipes were coming to the end of their life, but that “how we deal with it is still being considered” and he suspected that the council would decide on a “20 to 30-year programme of replacement”. How on earth can any responsible council leave a decision like this for so long? To add further unease, Mr Rush suggested a public-private partnership should be considered to help pay for the work. Does this mean not only will our rates go up, but we will also have to pay to use the system as well?

    And, just to make things worse he added that, even though the council will need to prioritise its spending, this would not necessarily involve taking money away from nice-to-have projects such as a movie museum or convention centre! Pretty much sums up the council’s attitude these days “nice-to-have” over “need-to-have”.

  12. Gillybee, 26. December 2019, 10:21

    “How did we get to this state of affairs?”

    We as a nation embraced ‘NZ Inc’ as the way to run a country Hel. By prioritising cost instead of value. By allowing the managing class to take over, with their degrees in public administration and lack of practical skills.

    It’s worth remembering that WCC dispensed with its Works Department – the last left in the country – under our Green mayor Celia Wade. My point being that this cost-cutting mentality is a feature of the post-WW2 political class generally, rather than being confined to any one party.

  13. Dave Armstrong, 27. December 2019, 14:07

    Cheers Lindsay for an excellent article. Alas, you got just one thing wrong. I was not censored by the DomPost but left the last word in my slogan to the readers’ imagination. Merry Scoopmas and a poop-free New Year. Dave. [Apologies for my lack of imagination ...]

  14. Ron Oliver, 28. December 2019, 12:30

    Our present state of affairs regarding sewerage disposal brings to mind another mayor named Michael Fowler who along with his staff came up with the idea that the city really needed a new Town Hall in addition to the one we already had and that would be much more progressive for the community rather than worrying about such mundane things like old sewerage pipes in Miramar. They could always be taken care of at a later date. Its seems to me Politicians are always lost in the future rather than worrying about the present concerns of the people they are supposed to represent.

  15. Concerned Wellingtonian, 28. December 2019, 18:40

    MFC is a real asset.

  16. Elaine Hampton, 30. December 2019, 11:13

    The Town Hall is a real asset also, sewers are real assets, public health has saved more lives than modern medicine in the last 100 years and should be a priority. (Prevention better than a cure).
    Also the pollution in Lambton Quay is a result of wrong-footed council planning. Pollution kills more people than car accidents.
    Will we have the Council sued at some point in the future for causing dysentery, asthma or stroke deaths?
    Also councillors are surely in a governance role re officers and administrators. Do they realise that? Seems Mr Rush is repeating ‘spin’.