Turning the tide on water quality

What a stunning summer we had on the Shore; we had fantastic weather plus heaps of festivals, events, activities music and food, and the America’s Cup celebrations.
Water quality was a focus as always, with questions about what is being done to improve water quality after a significant downpour. The answer is that after decades of under-investment, Auckland Council is spending billions on water infrastructure to clean up our beaches and improve water quality.

This investment includes our Safeswim and Safe Networks programmes. Safeswim is world leading; cities are looking to use our real-time modelling to inform residents. Three years ago the only way to alert the public about poor water quality was to take samples and report results 48 hours later, which was no help to anybody. We can now feel confident when our beaches are safe for swimming and are warned of the few times there may be a risk of pollution.
North Shore residents’ support for our water quality targeted rate improvements has made a real difference. Through Safe Networks, forensic testing of kilometres of pipes picked up some easy fixes. Many issues have been on private properties such as illegal connections, broken pipes or people pouring waste down stormwater drains.

In 2019, forensic testing of homes and businesses across Takapuna picked up 45 issues that were addressed to prevent wastewater flows onto our beach. Private landowners fixed their issues, and we replaced the plumbing at the Takapuna Beach toilets too. We’ve seen improvements in water quality at Takapuna with far fewer issues than previously.

Last year when we investigated pipes across 851 homes in Milford and Castor Bay, 36 issues were found, 19 were fixed, five abatement notices were issued and 12 issues are to be addressed by property owners. This work will continue up the Wairau catchment and I’m working with Healthy Waters on proposals for gross pollutant traps and other measures to help improve the water quality in our biggest and most challenging catchment. Local boards, the Milford business and residents associations and other community groups are working in this space too.

The last stage of the $12m Hurstmere Road upgrade kicks off soon. The water infrastructure has been upgraded and the new rain gardens are operating and cleaning stormwater before it gets to Takapuna Beach. Native trees and grasses will be planted this planting season.

Construction on a $15m Mairangi Bay pump station will also start soon. This will help with growth and take pressure off the wastewater infrastructure to prevent overflows in Campbells Bay and Castor Bay.
At Milford there’s an $8.3 million stormwater project to reduce flooding in the town centre. We are replacing old pipes and installing a stormwater treatment device to improve water quality in the Wairau Estuary. It was delayed until late this year, but we now aim to get it started just after Easter.
I released our five yearly State of the Environment report in March and the good news is that generally across Auckland we are seeing a small overall improvement to water quality, and where we are putting in work and investment we see significant improvements.
Restoring the mauri of our natural environment isn’t an easy fix, particularly in urban areas. There are many issues to address that have built up over generations. When I look at what’s happening in other cities across Aotearoa with bursting pipes and failed infrastructure, I am glad we’ve got this work underway in Tāmaki Makaurau. It will take time and effort from everyone, but are we already seeing a positive difference.