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Pollution returns to Owhiro Bay, two days after it was “safe”

Wellington.Scoop
Pollution has returned to Owhiro Bay, only two days after the council-owned Wellington Water company said it had fixed the long-running problem. Wellington Water has provided no information, but Owhiro Bay resident Eugene Doyle reports on Facebook:

Sorry to bring this very disappointing news but, after much pushing, we got the latest data from Wellington Water and the reading at the Owhiro Stream outlet on 1 Feb was 3900cfu (colony-forming units) of enterococci bacteria. The maximum safe level is 280.

It’s been consistently in the red, so we are not sure why Wellington Water took the signs down and not sure what happens next but they are calling in the morning with answers to the various questions the Owhiro Bay Residents Association has put to them. For the time being, until we get better information, we strongly advise people not to swim in the bay.

closing-again-at-owhiro-bay

UPDATE from Eugene Doyle on Facebook
Just received this from Wellington Water. Very bad news about the pollution in our bay. Swimming near the Owhiro Stream outlet is apparently going to be banned for years because Wellington Water has decided they don’t have the resources to secure water quality for our stream, beach or community. Grim but there’s a team of us, including Ian and Sue Reid, assisted by Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons who are going fight this appalling abdication of responsibility by the local authorities.

UPDATE from Wellington Water (also via Facebook)
Jst providing a bit of a recap of our conversation with Eugene Doyle of the Owhiro Bay Residents Association. We have followed our protocols recommending the reopening of the beach. A source of the spike in contamination was identified and the sampling at the long term beach monitoring site had returned to normal. We acknowledge that our communication could have been better as removing the warning signs implies that the Owhiro Stream, that crosses the beach, is safe for swimming in. Owhiro Stream, like many urban waterways, has a long history of contamination and is regularly unsafe for swimming in. Improving the quality of Owhiro Stream will require a coordinated and long term programme of works.

We have identified water quality as one of our key focus areas for our client councils to consider in the preparation of their upcoming Long Term Plans. In the short term Wellington Water will implement a permanent sign at the mouth of the Owhiro Stream warning people of the potential water quality issues.

Wellington.Scoop – January 31
The council-owned Wellington Water company announced yesterday that the water quality at Owhiro Bay beach has returned to safe levels and investigations of the likely sources in the catchment have been completed, with three cross-connections found.

It planned to remove the no swimming signs – which have been at the beach for all of January.

News from Wellington Water – January 22
The water quality in Owhiro Bay is being affected by a cross-connection. A cross-connection is where a wastewater pipe is connected into a stormwater pipe. Most cross-connections are from private pipes into public (council) pipes, and this is the case here.

Wastewater from private properties is entering the stormwater system, which leads to Owhiro Stream, which leads to the Bay. We are working with the property owners concerned, who were not aware of the issue, to resolve it as quickly as possible.

Contamination from cross-connections can be difficult to locate. Wastewater flows are not constant – they depend on usage. To find the source we have to take samples, send them to the laboratory for testing, and then get the results. This takes a couple of days. We have to work our way methodically upstream to narrow down the area where the contamination is coming from.

We’re working with property owners to resolve cross-connections we’ve identified. We expect to have these sorted by the end of the week. We’re also continuing our investigation and testing; it can be a mistake to think the first fault you come across will fix the problem.

If you have concerns about what you think might be a cross-connection at your place, please let us know and we’ll come and take a look. Our main concern is to eliminate as many of these as we can.

Warning signs that recommend against swimming and fishing in Owhiro Bay remain in place, and will stay there until we receive three consecutive days of clear results. We will update via social media and the website when this changes. If you have been swimming in the area and feel sick, please visit your doctor.

Wellington.Scoop – January 20
The council-owned Wellington Water company is this week faced with its fourth sewage spill in less than a month.

The spill, reported yesterday by the DomPost, is at Owhiro Bay on Wellington’s south coast. Measurements taken daily since January 8 have shown unsafe pollution levels every day.

Tom Hunt of the DomPost reports:

Wellington Water became aware of the contamination spike at Owhiro Bay just before New Year’s Eve and put up signs but, with swimmers still using the water, it admits it could have communicated better. On one hand it has told residents it is fixing the problem – likely caused by wastewater including sewage getting into stormwater – on the other it says it is still trying to find out what the problem actually is.

There is no information about Owhiro Bay on the website of Wellington Water.

But pollution at the Bay has been unresolved for ten years – in 2010 the beach was closed for weeks when the city council failed to find the source of the contamination. In March of that year the council said it believed it had fixed the problem. But two years later contamination was again found in the bay.

Five days ago, Wellington Water reported a discharge of partially treated sewage from the Martinborough wastewater treatment plant. It has provided information on this contamination:

We estimate that about 90,000 litres – three rainwater tanks-worth – of partially treated wastewater entered the Ruamahanga River over a 12 hour period between 9.45pm last night and 10am this morning. This is about two litres a second, or a dilution factor in the river of about 10,000 to one. Public health and recreational water user risk from the discharge is understood to be negligible. Discharging treated wastewater to the river is a consented activity under the right conditions, but in this case, the discharge was not in accordance with the consent. Another 45,000 litres of partially treated wastewater was discharged to land adjacent to the treatment plant, where treated wastewater is normally spread by irrigation.

Authorities at Regional Public Health and Greater Wellington Regional Council as well as iwi and community liaison group representatives have been notified. We have initiated a full incident response and investigation and the outcomes of this work will be released when completed.

Meanwhile, sewage contamination in part of Wellington harbour has still not been fixed. On 10 January, Wellington Water reported:

We have been working this week on Cuba Street to resolve a cross-connection to reduce the contamination in the inner Wellington Harbour. Recent tests show that the water quality has still not improved sufficiently, so we continue to advise people to avoid swimming or collecting seafood at the Taranaki Diving Platform and the shaded area on the map below until further notice.

And work continues to provide new sewage pipes under the CBD, after the December collapse which resulted in millions of litres of sewage flowing into the harbour.

Last year Wellington Water was convicted and fined $67,500 for an illegal discharge of sewage sludge from the Porirua City Wastewater Treatment Plant.

News from Wellington Water – January 22
The water quality in Owhiro Bay is being affected by a cross-connection. A cross-connection is where a wastewater pipe is connected into a stormwater pipe. Most cross-connections are from private pipes into public (council) pipes, and this is the case here.

Wastewater from private properties is entering the stormwater system, which leads to Owhiro Stream, which leads to the Bay. We are working with the property owners concerned, who were not aware of the issue, to resolve it as quickly as possible.

Contamination from cross-connections can be difficult to locate. Wastewater flows are not constant – they depend on usage. To find the source we have to take samples, send them to the laboratory for testing, and then get the results. This takes a couple of days. We have to work our way methodically upstream to narrow down the area where the contamination is coming from.

We’re working with property owners to resolve cross-connections we’ve identified. We expect to have these sorted by the end of the week. We’re also continuing our investigation and testing; it can be a mistake to think the first fault you come across will fix the problem.

If you have concerns about what you think might be a cross-connection at your place, please let us know and we’ll come and take a look. Our main concern is to eliminate as many of these as we can.

Warning signs that recommend against swimming and fishing in Owhiro Bay remain in place, and will stay there until we receive three consecutive days of clear results. We will update via social media and the website when this changes. If you have been swimming in the area and feel sick, please visit your doctor.

Wellington.Scoop – January 20
The council-owned Wellington Water company is this week faced with its fourth sewage spill in less than a month.

The spill, reported yesterday by the DomPost, is at Owhiro Bay on Wellington’s south coast. Measurements taken daily since January 8 have shown unsafe pollution levels every day.

Tom Hunt of the DomPost reports:

Wellington Water became aware of the contamination spike at Owhiro Bay just before New Year’s Eve and put up signs but, with swimmers still using the water, it admits it could have communicated better. On one hand it has told residents it is fixing the problem – likely caused by wastewater including sewage getting into stormwater – on the other it says it is still trying to find out what the problem actually is.

There is no information about Owhiro Bay on the website of Wellington Water.

But pollution at the Bay has been unresolved for ten years – in 2010 the beach was closed for weeks when the city council failed to find the source of the contamination. In March of that year the council said it believed it had fixed the problem. But two years later contamination was again found in the bay.

Five days ago, Wellington Water reported a discharge of partially treated sewage from the Martinborough wastewater treatment plant. It has provided information on this contamination:

We estimate that about 90,000 litres – three rainwater tanks-worth – of partially treated wastewater entered the Ruamahanga River over a 12 hour period between 9.45pm last night and 10am this morning. This is about two litres a second, or a dilution factor in the river of about 10,000 to one. Public health and recreational water user risk from the discharge is understood to be negligible. Discharging treated wastewater to the river is a consented activity under the right conditions, but in this case, the discharge was not in accordance with the consent. Another 45,000 litres of partially treated wastewater was discharged to land adjacent to the treatment plant, where treated wastewater is normally spread by irrigation.

Authorities at Regional Public Health and Greater Wellington Regional Council as well as iwi and community liaison group representatives have been notified. We have initiated a full incident response and investigation and the outcomes of this work will be released when completed.

Meanwhile, sewage contamination in part of Wellington harbour has still not been fixed. On 10 January, Wellington Water reported:

We have been working this week on Cuba Street to resolve a cross-connection to reduce the contamination in the inner Wellington Harbour. Recent tests show that the water quality has still not improved sufficiently, so we continue to advise people to avoid swimming or collecting seafood at the Taranaki Diving Platform and the shaded area on the map below until further notice.

And work continues to provide new sewage pipes under the CBD, after the December collapse which resulted in millions of litres of sewage flowing into the harbour.

Last year Wellington Water was convicted and fined $67,500 for an illegal discharge of sewage sludge from the Porirua City Wastewater Treatment Plant.

13 comments:

  1. Curtis Nixon, 4. February 2020, 15:54

    The ever-lasting pollution of Owhiro Bay was one of the reasons it was made part of the marine reserve. That is how long term the problem has been, and shows the incompetence and unwillingness of Wellington Water to fix the problem.

     
  2. Fleur Fitzsimons, 4. February 2020, 18:27

    Need an integrated approach including with Regional Public Health, it’s great having committed people in the community raising these issues consistently but the burden needs to sit with public agencies to prioritise action and get it right. Will keep raising this and seeking better outcomes. [via Facebook.]

     
  3. Laurie Foon, 4. February 2020, 18:28

    I agree we need an integrated strategy. We must work toward the vision of our children being able to play in the Owhiro stream! We are a long way off from that now. [via Facebook]

     
  4. Andrew, 4. February 2020, 20:17

    Has any testing been conducted upstream from where the tip gully catchment joins Owhiro Stream, to eliminate the various tips as a contributing factor? A leak at the sludge dewatering plant perhaps? [In 2017: pollution linked to landfill.]

     
  5. Owhiro Bay, 4. February 2020, 21:16

    I don’t buy the “lack of budget” excuse. This is toxic pollution as a public health hazard in a popular coastal Wellington suburb with families living around a cross pool of E Coli. It is also a marine reserve, a protected and delicate marine environment. It is NOT ACCEPTABLE. [via twitter]

     
  6. Groggy, 5. February 2020, 12:49

    Not to mention that the stream runs directly behind the local school and the Happy Valley sportsground.

     
  7. michael, 5. February 2020, 13:17

    I doubt it is Wellington Water’s unwillingness to fix the problem as their funding, and what services they are able to provide, are determined by the WCC. The infrastructure (which seems to be constantly failing) is the responsibility of the WCC, which has remained silent – letting Wellington Water take the all the flak.

     
  8. Kara, 5. February 2020, 15:52

    We should ask the managers from Wellington Water to swim in Owhiro Bay and see how prepared they are to risk their health.

     
  9. Fleur Fitzsimons, 5. February 2020, 17:04

    Next plan includes a community discussion, likely a Sunday in March, date tbc. I have made it clear to Wellington Water that trust needs to be rebuilt between it and the community and I will actively support this. [via twitter]

     
  10. Andrew, 5. February 2020, 21:17

    Fleur, you should also address the public’s trust in your organisation. Take the Cuba Street crossed connections for example. The WCC inspectors sight and sign off on plumbing work, not Wellington Water.

     
  11. Eugene Doyle, 6. February 2020, 10:42

    Pollution levels have shot up higher again: 5900 (versus maximum acceptable 280cfu/100ml). Wellington Regional Council have asked me to give a presentation next week followed by Q&A. Please PM what you consider the most important couple of action points you would like the authorities to address. [via Facebook]

     
  12. Mark Solly, 6. February 2020, 10:43

    Might be worth asking for what information they have about risk levels for the environment vs humans. Fecal coliform are bad for people but are they bad for marine life? Framing the problem might help set the appropriate level of outrage. [via Facebook]

     
  13. Owhiro Bay, 8. February 2020, 21:49

    This really is a shit situation for us in the bay (literally). WgtnWater I urge you to replace those warning signs immediately. Today I saw two children in that water full of enterococcus. [via twitter].