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Blaming the drains

by Ian Apperley
The Mayor was blaming older drains for this week’s flooding in Wellington. She points out that the council have already spent “millions” on stormwater and have budgeted $200 million for the next ten years. But that figure can’t be correct, because the new investment planned is $25 million per annum and that has to include all infrastructure, which means water and wastewater as well. So the actual figure is likely to be much lower.

Of course, the whole area falls foul of the “shrink your way to success” mentality that seems to be gripping aspects of the City Council as more and more outsourcing is made. The bottom line is that they think taking the current approach will save them money. It’s not about capacity, that’s a sub-focus in my opinion.

Let’s take a look at that figure again. The actual number is $56 million in capital spend:

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the effective functioning of Wellington’s infrastructure is essential for the city’s health and economy. “We have budgeted more than $150 million in operational spending and over $56 million in capital spending over the next 10 years for stormwater assets,” she says.

That’s not much.

Meanwhile, five of the top ten pet projects that the Council wants to get through are going to cost us $250 million with an extra “slush fund” of some $230 million. Nearly half a billion dollars over ten years – while stormwater languishes with just $56 million.

Perhaps they should consider reprioritising some of those projects to essential infrastructure rather than fleets of fancy with no business cases?

Cr Pannett says, contrary to many reports in the past couple of weeks, it appears that drainage network capacity – and not blocked drains and sumps – is the principal cause of the flooding.

That’s important. It says that the system can’t handle the water. It’s not just an autumnal effect caused by debris.

More from the council’s media release on Tuesday:

Wellington was today hit by the second severe rainstorm in a fortnight. Rainfall gauges indicate today’s deluge, which caused flooding from Khandallah to Kilbirnie, was a 1-in-30-year event. The 28 April event was even more intense, with a 1-in-80-year likelihood, and was more narrowly focused on the southern and eastern suburbs.

As I wrote this, I could see on the Metservice Radar another massive burst of rain heading our way. The rules are broken. Relying on data that says this only occurs every three decades to eight decades when it occurs more and more frequently, days apart, is madness.

We know that the weather is changing rapidly. The Tasman Sea is the fastest warming ocean on the planet, heating at between two and three times more than any other ocean. As a result, our trade winds pick up more and more water laden air which is then funneled through Cook Strait to dump on the city. These events will become more torrential and more severe. We also know that weather globally, while shrinking in the number of critical events, is increasing in intensity.

These are not one in eighty year events. They will become seasonal. If you want to see what that looks like, consider the monsoon season.

That makes it urgent to resolve these issues. The personal cost of this is high with people already unable to afford insurance being, literally, cleaned out in some places. The cost economically is high, as the city grinds to a screeching halt pretty much every time this happens. You can bet insurance costs will increase as well.

So tagging $5.6 million dollars per annum for the next ten years to fix the issue is ludicrous.

It also makes a mockery of the council spin doctor’s statement that fixing the system would “break the bank.” Is Richard losing his touch?

Cr Pannett says it is possible engineers may recommend some relatively inexpensive, but effective, flood mitigation measures such as paying for houses or buildings to be raised off the ground on higher piles, or for bunds to be built in some areas where practicable.

These are practical measures, after all. When we build the film museum, the new events centre, the convention centre and a host of other pet projects, we can simply build them on stilts. We could also raise all the curbs in the city such as they do in Asia to deal with the monsoonal downpours. Better yet. Why don’t we just dig canals? We could be the Venice of the south.

If we bring up the Two Million Trees Planting that the WCC committed to, we could soak up a LOT of water. Might ruin the bike lanes though.

The drains need replacing. That means digging everything up and putting in bigger ones. Pretty simple really. Of course, it’s not just stormwater, the entire infrastructure area is under-funded and just plain “stuck”. Traffic is getting worse. Public transport is getting worse. Assets are being sold off and “sweated” (i.e. not invested in).

We can’t expect the National Party, sorry, the Auckland Party to help us out, as they seem to be well, in Auckland, having forgotten the rest of the country. But that’s ok, because with nearly a half billion dollars for special projects tagged, we need not worry.