Wellington Scoop

A matter of priorities: time to clean up the contaminated water


by Michael Gunson
The Surfbreak Protection Society is deeply disturbed by yet another wastewater overflow on Wellington’s south coast (Feb 3–Feb 5).

The Wellington City Council’s position is “Generally speaking 48 hours after heavy rainfall it’s usually wise to avoid swimming in the harbour or swimming around the south coast.” But this is not good enough considering the optimal time for surfing is generally directly after a storm/rainfall event.

The release of contaminated water on our coastline is in breach of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (December 2010) in relation to the use and enjoyment of surf breaks.

In 2010 the Wgtn Surfriders Club (now dissolved) consulted with and submitted on a Wellington City Council resource consent application to continue to discharge storm water and occasionally contaminated storm water (untreated wastewater from constructed overflows into the storm water system) directly into the city’s coastal waters, including Lyall Bay and the south coast (The WSB also recommended in its submission that storm water drains in the area of Lyall Bay be fitted with filter traps).

On 18 February 2011 the Hearing Panel acting for the Wellington Regional Council released their decision on a 3 stage approach to resolving storm water and wastewater connections and associated overflow events. The panel acknowledged the significant costs of the works to resolve these overflow events, a fact that was often affirmed to the submitters by the city council during the pre-hearing process as a reason that the council could not afford to give the project the operational urgency and priority it deserves.

SPS questions how the Wellington City Council can prioritise an $8million subsidy for Singapore Airlines to run an uneconomic flight route to Singapore, a $5million consent application subsidy to WIAL for an airport extension with a minimum donation of $90million required for the project, while Wellington ratepayers and tourists have to avoid surfing and swimming in our filthy coastal waters after rainfall events?

The 2011 decision on storm water/wastewater overflows facilitates the opportunity to review the consent conditions under section 128 of the RMA at any time within 3 months of the 30th of June every year.

SPS request that the Regional Council undertake such a review with regard to the oversight of the hearings panel to fully assess the implications of the December 2010 Coastal Policy Statement, particularly in relation to the public’s use and enjoyment of the city’s surf breaks.

SPS are also disappointed that a real time event warning system promised to surfers during consultation on the consents never eventuated (through no fault of Paul Glennie of Capacity).

Michael Gunson handles research and communications for the Surbreak Protection Society.



  1. Ian Apperley, 8. February 2017, 8:28

    It’s worth noting that this has gone on for somewhere around two decades as well. It’s hardly a new issue. A quick search has news articles going well back.

    Successive Councils just haven’t invested in infrastructure. They’d rather have vanity projects.

  2. Aidy, 8. February 2017, 9:25

    Well said. The rubbish in the harbour on friday was disgusting, ahead of one of the only decent beach days this summer. And the brown slicks that run into Lyall Bay after moderate rainfall aren’t reassuring.

    It seems the council can do work to protect low lying houses from stormwater when there’s enough outcry, (There have been two major drainage works on Queens Drive in the last 18 months), but paying rates doesn’t mean you’ll be able to use the beaches and coastal areas safely.

    For all the WCC’s and Regional Council’s consultation on a new environment plan last year, very little seems to change unfortunately.

  3. Mark Shanks, 8. February 2017, 10:03

    Excellent article Michael and your concerns are only going to become more urgently in need of resolution as extreme weather events inevitably increase in frequency. Water quality and security is the most pressing issue for GWRC and WCC to deal with but their responses always seem to be reactive. I too wonder about their priorities.

  4. Elaine Hampton, 8. February 2017, 10:05

    When John Key (where is he now?) said NZ 100% pure was ‘just a brand,’ Kiwis in London were joking about NZ 30% pure. Probably down to 10% now. Some years ago I walked my dog at dusk along the beach at Lyall Bay, couldn’t work out what the terrible smell was, washed the dog, still there, had to wash the boots and leave them outside. Disgusting. My son used to surf there. Surely a clean environment is a non negotiable, public health matter, essential. There is already the plane drop out over the area. Vanity projects are a nice to have. Let’s set the principle of no overflow onto the beach and then debate the detail.

  5. Mikey, 9. February 2017, 10:17

    WCC and Wellington Water have another agenda. Infrastructure, instead of repairs and maintenance.
    If only everyone had water tanks to collect rainwater – as was proposed eight years ago.

  6. Phil Wollerman, 9. February 2017, 12:19

    As a surfer who barely uses Lyall Bay these days, I still feel strongly that the Councils – City and Regional – have a duty of care to their ratepayers.

    As Elaine says above, surely clean water is a non-negotiable, public health matter. If as Mike Gunson says, cash can be found to subsidise an application for an Airport extension that will cost ratepayers over $90million on top of the $5m application subsidy.

    For years surfers put up with solids and floating condoms and sanitary aids at Titahi Bay coming from a direct outfall. No way would I want my kids or do I expect anyone’s to have to swim or surf in other people’s shit – even if it is only for a few days a year that is a few days too much.

    Find the money and fix the problems – even if you need to inspect every stormwater pipe in the city to find private offenders – before Wellington Water is sold off to private enterprise who will never fix this. You would be best advised not to hold your breath, though. Except when duck-diving!

  7. TrevorH, 9. February 2017, 14:14

    This is unacceptable. Clean water and effective sanitation are the fundamentals on which civilization depends, not vanity convention centres and fantasy airports. Wellington is increasingly a grotty, run down dump thanks to Councillors’ indifference.

  8. Michael Gunson, 11. February 2017, 1:27

    Ian Apperley, As a 10 year year old in ’71, my Mom dragged me round the neighborhood in Breaker Bay to solicit signatures for a petition asking the WCC to remedy raw sewage spewing out from the Moa Point outfall into Breaker Bay in a south westerly. As a little surfer nipper I was well aware of the raw stuff floating in Lyall Bay in a south easterly wind.

    Thank god for milli-screening, cos then at least we didn’t see the used condoms, the sanitary pads… we could still smell it though…

    Now they have some UV treatment, great! Except for when it rains…

    Oh well at least the wastewater is now polished, and we may receive more value for infratil’s asset portfolio if WIAL gains its consents..

  9. Henry Filth, 14. February 2017, 5:21

    Seems like New Zealanders just can’t see a body of water without wanting to dump a pile of sh*t in it. . .