Wellington Scoop

Washing cars and polluting the harbour

by Lindsay Shelton
I thought everyone knew about the dire state of Porirua Harbour, and the brave and belated attempts to reduce its pollution. But not, apparently, three people who say they don’t agree with a bylaw to stop the harbour being polluted through the stormwater drains.

There’ve been reports on the pollution since 2004. Here on Wellington.Scoop we’ve been describing the problems since 2009, when seminars about harbour pollution were being organised, and Jim Mikoz gave us photos of sediment and mud which had drastically reduced the depth of the water. As he told us then:

The water was two metres deep along the road to Titahi Bay when I was jagging yellow eyed mullet there in 1964. Now there’s hardly any water there. Ten years ago, the waka crews could swim across to the traffic lights at Aotea College. Now you can walk there across the mud.

In 2011 a Trust to improve the harbour faster was formed. It told us:

The Porirua Harbour system (the Onepoto Arm, Pauatahanui Inlet and the outer harbour) was once one of the most productive ecosystems on New Zealand’s west coast. It supported abundant fish, shell fish and bird life and was a nursery for fish species. It had lush wetlands and was surrounded by bush clad hills. “The harbour can never be restored to its original condition but it can be significantly improved from its current state. Our plan is to make improvements happen faster and to target things that make the biggest difference,” said the trust’s interim chairperson Grant Baker.

In 2012 Nick Leggett admitted there was growing bacterial contamination in the harbour. In the same year, a Porirua Harbour and Catchment Strategy and Action Plan was approved. But a year later, Porirua councillors were told that urbanised parts of their harbour were unlikely to be safe for fishing ever again.

By 2014, things hadn’t improved. The Regional Council reported

Sediment entering Porirua harbour continues to be a problem. The latest five-yearly survey of the harbour’s intertidal habitats has shown that the area of estuary covered in freshly deposited mud has increased substantially, particularly near the Kakaho and Horokiri streams. Soft mud reduces the water clarity, the amount of oxygen in the sediment, and the growth of vital seagrass. This results in a loss of habitat, reduces recreational and aesthetic values and the estuary’s ability to function effectively.

Last month, the (slow-moving?) Porirua City Council approved another strategy and action plan to reduce harbour pollution. Barbara Donaldson from the regional council tried to sound optimistic:

“I look forward to more progress over the next three years in reducing sediment and pollution of our harbour and improving ecological health and public enjoyment of the harbour”.

Then the council announced a new bylaw to keep paint and petrol and detergent (from car-washing) out of the stormwater system which drains into the harbour. It seemed a reasonable idea. But the DomPost succeeded in finding three locals who didn’t like it at all.

Basil Vangellekom of Titahi Bay, is planning to ignore the Porirua City Council’s bylaw. He said people should be allowed to wash their cars on concrete when they needed to. He would snub the bylaw by continuing to wash his 1998 Toyota Hilux on his driveway. “Most of it’s going to run off into the lawn,” he said. His brother Gilbert Vangellekom of Elsdon vowed to keep washing his two cars on his driveway, where the water runs on to the berm. He described the bylaw as “bloody bullshit…”.

Rita Uiese, of Titahi Bay, said the ban would force her to wash her car on the street berm, or head into the city and pay for a car wash. “And my kids love doing it in the summer, coming out with the hose, and giving it a wash. Get the old bucket with bubbles in it and away they go.”

Which is what the Porirua council is trying to avoid. All those bubbles going directly into the polluted harbour.

Did the DomPost go out of its way to find three people who don’t want the Porirua Harbour to improve? Did it tell them the reason for the new car-cleaning rule, before recording their rants? Could it have found three locals who were in sympathy with what the council is trying to do?

Councillor Bronwyn Kropp says there’ll be several months of education on the new stormwater bylaw. Starting, no doubt, with the three people quoted by the DomPost.

“If we want to have a healthy, operating ecosystem and environment, which I think is something a lot of Kiwis appreciate and value, then we all need to be responsible about what we put down the drain.”

It seems there’s lots more education to be done in Porirua.

DomPost: Carwash ban chance to educate


  1. Ian Apperley, 29. August 2015, 13:26

    Clickbait in action. As you noted, they found three who hated the idea, which wouldn’t be hard. Then posted a “bring it on” type of article from Nick Leggett.
    Advertising sells, clicks sell, rant comments are gold.

  2. Russel Norman, 29. August 2015, 18:05

    Good on the Porirua Council for acting to keep pollution out of their harbour, and standing their ground [via Twitter]

  3. Rob Suisted, 29. August 2015, 18:11

    But the council voted with NZTA (against WCC) to bulldoze Takapu Valley, 50% length of the Porirua Stream and the pristine headwater of Porirua Harbour. [via Twitter]

  4. Chris Horne, 30. August 2015, 17:45

    Let’s face it, neither Porirua City Council, nor the NZ Transport Agency, are really serious about wanting to reduce the pollution of Porirua Harbour, either its Onepoto Arm, or its Pauatahanui Inlet arm, Both organisations are avid supporters of the Transmission Gully Motorway. Its construction will involve excavation, then dumping, of about six million cubic metres of soil and rock. That volume equates to about six hundred thousand truck loads. Most of that excavation is to be in Horokiri Valley, and the valleys of Duck Creek, Cannons Creek and Porirua Stream. The streams in all these valleys flow into one arm of Porirua Harbour, or the other. Vast volumes of sediment are bound to flow into Porirua Harbour, further hastening its decline. When I crossed Horokiri Stream ten days ago, near where it flows into the internationally significant wildlife refuge, Pauatahanui Inlet, it was running brown. Pollution from the roadworks appears to have begun. [Sediment into the Pauatahanui Inlet at present is coming from the removal of the plantation forest up behind the Battle Hill Station. Managing sediment from forest removal is and will always be a major problem – Jim Mikoz.]

  5. Michael Gibson, 30. August 2015, 18:22

    Chris Horne’s comment, as is to be expected, is a valuable contribution. I remember being reassured years ago that the run-off would be fully controlled and I am very sorry to see that this is not happening.
    The local politicians who have let this happen should be ashamed of themselves.

  6. Phil C, 2. September 2015, 22:51

    The adjunct to this issue is the extensive concreting and tarmacing inherent in all property, which takes run-off into the stormwater system. It is imperative that in new developments permeable surfaces, like grass and porous tarmac, take precedence over traditional concrete and tarmac.

    Concreting over a front garden is not only a crime against taste, it’s an offence against nature.