Wellington Scoop

It’s a crisis, say residents: 20 years of faecal matter in Owhiro Bay

Resident Eugene Doyle says Owhiro Bay’s water is often so contaminated, it’s a danger to human health. Photo: RNZ / Rachel Thomas

Report from RNZ
Wellington’s Owhiro Bay residents are fed up after more than two decades of human waste making its way into their local stream and bay. Over 20 years, the bay and its swimming spots have been opened and closed, but the levels of contaminants continue to get worse.

And to make matters worse, Wellington Water doesn’t know what causes the pollution.

Owhiro Bay resident Eugene Doyle said the creeks that flow into Cook Strait become full of contaminants, especially when it rains.

Doyle said the contamination levels in the water were regularly high enough to critically endanger public health.

“Our community is good enough to receive about 20 percent of the city’s sewage but not good enough to live in a safe environment and enjoy a marine reserve free of human sewage.”

He said when the figures are doubled, the Ministry for the Environment said you have a one-in-20 chance of catching something, like a stomach bug or campylobacter.

The magic number is 280cfu per 100 millilitres – the maximum contamination level that’s considered safe for swimming. Cfu is a measure that indicates the level of bacteria in the water. Routinely over January and February the Owhiro Bay readings have run into the thousands.

For example, the day that Wellington Water and the public health officer reopened the beach – 30 January – the contamination was 1100cfu/100ml, he said. Within days of the beach reopening, it had climbed to 5900cfu/100ml.

“What we have is a crisis right here, right now that requires immediate investigation and immediate remedial work,” Doyle said.

Catherine Skinner, left, and Eugene Doyle were among residents demanding improvements from the Regional Council. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

He was one of several residents who presented their concerns to the Wellington Regional Council today – asking it as well as other local agencies to find and fix the sources of sewage contamination in their stream.

He said residents were aware the council could point to long-term plans to fix the pipes, but said the community wasn’t prepared to wait till 2040 for a solution.

Regional council trying to trace all sources of contamination

At the meeting today, the Regional Council’s water team said those figures don’t surprise them – and that’s not the worst of the readings from the region.

Wellington Water’s stormwater chief adviser Benjamin Fountain said there is an ongoing investigation to work out where the high contaminants and human waste are getting through. (The investigation has been going on for ten years.)

“What we’ve found is three cross connections within Owhiro Bay catchment and there may be more.”

He said cross connections happened when a private property has connected its waste water connection to the storm water pipe sending it to the streams and harbour. But there were other driving forces behind the pollution too, he just wasn’t sure what they were.

“It’s not the only problem, there are wider issues in the network and we’re continuing to track those down… That’s what the investigation is for.”

Regional council chair Daran Ponter could not understand that this was still an issue in the 21st century.

“Either we’ve got thick plumbers out there who just don’t know how to connect things properly, or the network operator is not plumbing back through the pipes to actually work out what’s being connected.”

Resident of 30 years Catherine Skinner said it has been going on for decades but nothing has been done, which is making the problem worse. There is a lot of talk about the planning and talk of the future, but there ware no indications of timeframes to do things.”

The year 2040 had been thrown around, but it wasn’t clear if that was a deadline for clean water, or simply for plans to be under way, she said. It was scary to hear Owhiro Bay is only one of many dangerously polluted waterways in the region.

A recent crisis at the Moa Point wasterwater plant had meant dozens of trucks – which Doyle dubbed ‘turd taxis’ – were trucking sludge from Island Bay along the coast to the Southern Landfill every day, as pipes awaited repair.

“Imagine what we’re going through at the moment living with this tsunami of faecal material coming in trucks, coming down our stream and into our bay,” Doyle said.


  1. Jessica Manins, 14. February 2020, 9:11

    This is a disgrace Wgtn City Council. [via twitter]

  2. Nicola Willis, 14. February 2020, 11:57

    The “tsunami of faeces” in Owhiro Bay is completely unacceptable. No community should be expected to put up with this level of water pollution. I’m calling on our City Council to take urgent action to solve this disgraceful environmental and public health hazard. [via twitter]

  3. michael, 14. February 2020, 12:44

    I am over listening to the GWRC and WCC blaming everyone but themselves. They are ultimately responsible and have known for a very long time that the infrastructure was aging and would require millions to fix. So why are we not a long way through a prudent and considered replacement programme?
    On learning about the shocking state of Owhiro Bay, the constant trail of trucks filled with sewerage, the burst pipes polluting our harbour, and cross-contamination due to substandard work, one could be excused for believing we are a third world country.
    So, when is our “well-being” focused government going to take action, as it is clear the councils have been unable to fulfil their basic responsibilities? Are we going to have to wait for a cholera outbreak or worse before anything happens?