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“Number 8 wire” solution stops sewage spilling into wetlands, after two days

Report from LDR
Lake Ferry homeowners can use their showers and toilets again after the latest water infrastructure blunder in South Wairarapa. A “number 8 wire” solution using a temporary piping has been rigged up by engineers to restore wastewater service to 50 residences in the Wairarapa coastal village.

South Wairarapa District Council and water conglomerate Wellington Water [WW] blamed “third party damage” for a broken pipe and the subsequent discharge of partially treated wastewater into the nearby wetlands on Wednesday.

It forced Lake Ferry residents to restrict their wastewater use, and they’ve also been warned to stay away from the local wetlands, which had only recently been earmarked for protected Ramsar status [named after the Ramsar treaty on wetlands in 1971].

The treatment plant is situated on council land on the hills overlooking the hamlet. Work is ongoing to remove pine trees in the area. A Wellington Water spokesperson said a temporary, overland pipeline is in place “while a permanent repair solution is developed”.

“The plant resumed operation yesterday afternoon, meaning residents of Lake Ferry can resume regular activity.” Warning signs were erected at beaches on Lake Ferry’s shoreline as a precaution, with engineers and subcontractors working around the clock. The beaches have now been reopened, but the exact volume of the wastewater discharge as a result of the damage was still to be calculated.

Report from LDR – July 30
Another sewage incident in South Wairarapa has seen Lake Ferry folk warned off their local wetlands and asked to restrict their wastewater use. Homeowners and residents of the coastal hamlet’s 50 properties have been asked to limit their time in the shower and toilet by South Wairarapa District Council and its engineers at Wellington Water [WW].

The council and water conglomerate are blaming “third party damage” for a broken pipe, and the subsequent discharge of partially treated wastewater into nearby wetlands on Wednesday. Warning signs were erected at beaches on Lake Onoke’s shoreline as a precaution, with engineers and subcontractors working around the clock.

The spill is the latest water problem to befall SWDC and WW after their October 2019 partnership, which followed last year’s Martinborough E.coli scare.

Two sewage dumps in January saw almost half a million litres of wastewater, both treated and partially treated, into the Ruamahanga river near Martinborough. A report found human error had caused the problems. This followed incidents in Greytown, and Pirinoa.

Only last month, Featherston residents were put on boil water notices after weather damage to the town drinking supply.

Harry Wilson, SWDC chief executive, said the latest fault was “very disappointing”. “There will, of course, be a full investigation involving the Council, our contractors, and Wellington Water into establish why and how a wastewater pipe became broken. We are very relieved that partially treated wastewater didn’t enter the stream and cause contamination. Thank you to all the residents of Lake Ferry who are cooperating by conserving water while repairs are being completed.”

Lake Ferry Wastewater Treatment Plant serves 50 properties in Lake Ferry, including the popular campground and hotel.

SWDC gained resource consents for a 20-year term in June 2005 for a new treatment plant in the community. A new reticulation network collects and treats wastewater which is discharged to land and wetlands when soil conditions are unsuitable for land irrigation. The treatment plant is on council land on the hills overlooking the hamlet. Work is ongoing on that land to remove pine trees.

A WW statement said their priority right now is to “make repairs and have the plant operating as normal as soon as possible”.

Crews are making repairs to the damaged pipe to get the plant operating as normal. It is expected the treatment plant should be operating as usual within two days of completing repairs. While the repairs are being completed, sucker trucks are removing the wastewater from a pumping station in Lake Ferry and taking it to Martinborough for treatment.

“WW will be taking advice from Regional Public Health regarding the removal of the warning signs at the beach, and will advise when these have been removed.”

Lake Ferry resident Kevin O’Connor said his family received confirmation by social media last night.
“They just need to make sure everyone’s aware. There’s people who don’t have laptops or whatever.”
However, neighbour Mary Tipoki had not received direct confirmation from the council, over 24 hours after the fault. Tipoki and her family run the popular holiday park and hotel in the tourist spot. “I haven’t heard a word and we’re the biggest users.”

Historically, the council had notified users of outages by mail.

Jim Flack, a Department of Conservation ranger for the area, said wastewater spills into a natural water body are never a good thing. “We trust Wellington Water’s systems for dealing with these problems and the public health advice around food gathering and recreation at Lake Onoke. We hope that the situation will be resolved as quickly as possible with minimal impacts to the native plants and animals in the area.”

DOC does not monitor water quality at sites or advise on food safety issues.

The restriction on the use of the coastline comes just two weeks before the scheduled opening of the whitebait season.

Veteran Featherston whitebaiter Garry O’Dwyer said he was confident the matter would be tidied up by August 15. “I think it will get resolved well before that. If the lake’s open it wouldn’t matter. It would be nothing compared to the Wellington pipes that discharge into the Cook Strait. They’re much bigger than Lake Ferry’s.”

Wellington Water is investigating the details of the incident and the exact volume of the wastewater discharge as a result of the damage is still to be calculated.

News from Wellington Water – July 29
Third-party work undertaken near the Lake Ferry Wastewater Treatment Plant has damaged the discharge pipework that takes wastewater from the plant to the irrigation fields. This has resulted in a discharge of partially treated wastewater into the nearby wetlands. The discharge was stopped at approximately 1pm.

The wetlands flow toward Lake Onoke where it meets the coast, so we will be placing warning signs at the beach and asking people to avoid contact with the water and/or fishing in the area.

Our priority is to make repairs to maintain regular operation.

To do this, we need to reduce the demand on the treatment plant. We ask residents in Lake Ferry to restrict their water consumption to reduce demand in the wastewater system. This means avoiding or reducing showers and doing laundry, as well as avoiding flushing toilets where possible.

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