Water contamination across Wellington prompts emergency meeting

Wellington’s water authorities will hold an emergency meeting today to try to find a solution to the onslaught of pollution affecting the city’s rivers and beaches.

Mayor Andy Foster and the council’s chief executive are demanding answers from Wellington Water as contamination levels continue to render many waterways unswimmable.

The quality of all the city’s rivers and streams were rated D or E – E being the worst possible score.

Many harbour outlets were just as bad.

The dive platform at Taranaki St was measuring readings at 20 times higher than what was considered safe to swim.

Wellington Water had admitted part of the problem was cross connections – where sewage pipes had been linked up to stormwater drains, but it was clear something bigger was going on.

Foster said it was time to ask Wellington Water some frank questions.

“It’s really an opportunity for us to ask the questions that we think we need to ask to understand whether the system is being run properly or whether anything needs to be tweaked.”

The afternoon meeting will be attended only by Wellington Water, the council chief executive and members of the city council.

The Regional Council, despite being listed as a water authority, had not been invited.

Wellington Water did not respond yesterday to e-mails or calls from RNZ requesting an interview.

The public had also accused the authority of ducking for cover on sharing basic information.

The Karori Residents’ Association was refused a request for data on the level of contamination in the Karori stream, which is rated E.

The authority had also refused to erect safety warnings along the stream, telling residents that if a sign goes up there, signs will have to go up along all streams as they’re all highly contaminated.

Andrea Skews said children played in Karori stream, and the public deserved to know whether there was any danger to health.

“Weekdays and weekends I mean our local kindys and schools go down there and use it and the kids are always, down in the stream and across that and things like that. So we talking about public waterways here. How do the local authorities get away with not having the responsibility to disclose,” she said.

Ōwhiro Bay resident Eugene Doyle had made no secret of his disdain for local authorities.

The beach near his house measured up to 30 times the safe level for faecal contamination.

He said the councils, Wellington Water and public health have passed the buck for too long.

“We’ve got to actually make sure that we shock the authorities out of the profound complacency, their deep deep sleep and actually start addressing these issues. This is the crisis and it needs to be treated as such.”

Foster said the meeting today was an effort to restore public confidence Wellington’s waterways were being run as they should be.