Wellington Scoop

MP challenges “alarming, degraded” water infrastructure


From Nicola Willis MP
To David Wright, Chairman & Colin Crampton, Chief Executive Wellington Water

Dear David and Colin,
I am writing to raise my serious concerns about the poor performance of water infrastructure in Wellington City. This is a serious environmental and public health challenge that requires an immediate, transparent and substantive response.

In the past several weeks Wellington has endured the following incidents due to problems with our water infrastructure:

A “tsunami of faeces” coming down stream in Owhiro Bay.
More than five million litres of wastewater dumped in our harbour, polluting sea water, preventing swimming and threatening marine life.
Truck-loads of sludge being driven to treatment facilities.
Dozens of homes being cut-off from mains water for days because of failed pipes.
Confused messages about water quality at Whairepo Lagoon, Regional Council warnings of potentially unconsented sewage discharges and offensive discharge from a stormwater sump in Houghton Bay.
A refusal by your organisation to erect a public health warning at Karori stream, despite significant pollution issues.

I accept things go wrong occasionally, and that you have worked hard to respond to these incidents, but I do not believe this series of events is mere co-incidence. Taken together they tell an alarming story of sub-standard, degraded and poorly performing water infrastructure in our capital city.

Wellingtonians value our local environment immensely, we are the city of bush, sea and fresh air. Our citizens are environmentally conscious and active. Sub-standard management of our water and waste is simply not acceptable for a modern thriving city. We must protect our own backyard. We must be confident that our water infrastructure is properly maintained and does not pose a threat to human or ecological health.

I am further concerned to hear that the pipe network in Wellington city is “leaking” millions of litres of water on a daily basis. The environmental implications of unnecessary over-extraction are serious – particularly in light of the toxic algae bloom in the Hutt River this summer.

Water NZ analysis indicates Wellington’s wastewater system is in the poorest condition of all major NZ cities – with around a third of our wastewater pipes in poor or very poor condition. I am concerned this means we will see increasing amounts of sewage and waste water leaking into our fresh waterways and harbour.

I was shocked to read in your Annual Report that Wellington experiences, as a ‘baseline’, 43 overflows of wastewater into public places each month. Are deferrals in your capital works programme contributing to these problems?

We cannot fully confront this environmental challenge without first knowing its true size. I accept Wellington Water works within a restricted Budget but I believe you nonetheless have a responsibility to openly and transparently communicate the full extent of the environmental and health risks being caused by our degraded water infrastructure.

Wellingtonians deserve to know just how widespread these problems are, the risks posed to our environment, the probability of future “poomageddons” and how big a programme of investment is needed to prevent this kind of environmental damage. I therefore ask that you address the following questions as soon as possible:
– ·

How many of our local streams and beaches are being regularly polluted by contaminated discharges? Are we testing them regularly enough, have communities been informed and public health warnings erected and what’s being done to fix the causes of this pollution?
Has Wellington Water identified wastewater, storm water and drinking water pipes and connections at risk of failure or cross-contamination. Is there sufficient investment in that programme to ensure we don’t experience future “poomageddons”?
What are the current loss rates from our water network and are the major sources of any leaks known? If not, how do you plan to find out?
Has a full analysis been carried out to identify the extent of damage done to our water infrastructure following the Kaikoura earthquake? is regular smoke and dye testing carried out on Wellington’s water network, in order to identify leaks and damage to pipes that may result in environmental contamination?
Are we doing enough to future-proof our water infrastructure and to prepare for population growth?

In addition to answers to these questions, I request a meeting with you at your earliest convenience to discuss these significant environmental and health challenges and how our city can best respond.

Yours sincerely,
Nicola Willis
National List MP for Wellington

February 3: Repairs to wastewater pipes under Abel Smith, Cuba and Vivian Streets
February 8: Burst water main on Owhiro Road
February 12: Burst water main in Severn Street, Island Bay, cuts supply to 70 homes, two nights in a row.
February 14: Burst watermain in Tawa
February 15: Burst watermain in Kingston


  1. michael, 15. February 2020, 17:25

    Good on you Nicola . . .please let us know if you get a satisfactory response

  2. TrevorH, 15. February 2020, 19:16

    Excellent letter Nicola, thank you for taking action on our behalf when others who are nominally responsible are MIA.

  3. Thomas Nash, 16. February 2020, 9:02

    Wellington’s water situation is a symptom of some systemic problems. Under funding of core infrastructure and under valuing of clean water. [via twitter]

  4. IanS, 16. February 2020, 9:13

    Thank you Nicola. I support your plea for WCC ratepayers to spend more on this essential infrastructure. Water, sewage and emissions reducing public rapid transport for the benefit of the many should come well ahead of a new Mt Vic road tunnel which would further damage our local (and global) environment.

  5. michael, 16. February 2020, 10:05

    I am not about to let GWRC and WCC off the hook for this mess by letting them raise rates until we can no longer afford to live in the city – which is very close to becoming a reality for many of us. It is time the government stepped in to hold them to account. For years now the councils have not carried out their basic responsibilities. By contracting out essential services, the council lost control and expert oversight (but they do have someone else to blame). Meanwhile, as the departments charged with overseeing the often boring and grunt work associated with infrastructure etc disappeared, a large media department to promote vanity projects and generate fancy publications (many telling us how well the high-priced council is doing) appeared.
    Just imagine what $200 million earmarked for the convention centre could do toward fixing some of our problems like pipes or library or town hall or transport or rubbish or underground market . . . .

  6. Conor, 16. February 2020, 10:39

    Is Nicola asking for a rates increase or promising that a National government would fund the required upgrades? It isn’t clear.

  7. Tony Jansen, 16. February 2020, 16:10

    Good letter Nicola. But National had nine years whilst in government to collaborate with the various organisations responsible for this mess. Can you advise what they did over this period of time? This problem has been a long time in the making.
    It is all well to be a concerned Wellington resident, albeit an eloquent one, but as it is election year and your party has been prolific in the spreading of disinformation, just what are we to believe? Perhaps this is another effective piece of electioneering? What measures will National implement if elected in September, considering your party is pro private enterprise, and this seems to be a classic failure of private enterprise. Some things are and should stay public goods. Let’s hope ideology does not get in the way of an effective solution.
    How about, if elected, no second tunnel but new pipes instead – funded centrally? Is that a promise your party is prepared to make?

  8. Dumbluck, 16. February 2020, 18:27

    All the contractors around Wellington just milk the WCC dry and work never gets done on time or to high standard. May as well have prisoners work on our roads and drains. In fact we should.
    Our city is literally turning to shite. The council needs to sort the roads and tunnels now. Instead of worrying about a earthquake which no one knows will actually happen.

  9. Henry Filth, 17. February 2020, 13:41

    What efforts is Ms Willis making to shape future policy and to access central government funding for this issue? I see strident complaint without sign of action.

  10. Dave B, 24. February 2020, 13:37

    Surely this problem has its roots in former governmental policies to outsource and contract-out what used to be core council services. These policies have not delivered the efficiency-gains that were promised. They have instead led to the inefficiency and degradation that we are experiencing now.

    The same thing happened to TranzRail under private ownership, and it was not until taken back into public ownership as Ontrack and then KiwiRail that the decline was arrested. It has since been a long hard road to bring the neglected infrastructure back up to scratch.

    The council-departments for maintaining vital public infrastructure need to be re-created along the lines of how they were before this unfortunate ‘social experiment’ began. This will also be a long hard road.