During last week’s rather atrocious weather across Hawke’s Bay Napier’s continuing water woes became even more evident, with Napier City Council issuing a notification for residents to refrain from taking baths, or flushing toilets for 36 hours on Wednesday the 5th of September, as the city’s wastewater system failed to cope with the amount of rain that had fallen almost continuously for 24 hours.
For the second time in less than 18 months, Napier City Council released stormwater and sewerage into Napier’s Ahuriri Lagoon, otherwise known as “Pandora Pond” after more than 90mm of rain fell in 24 hours between Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th of September.
That’s almost twice the average for the entire month!
Similar events occurred last April when the tail ends of Cyclones Debbie and Cook successively hit Hawke’s Bay hard and the City Council discharged 2.5million litres of wastewater into Pandora Estuary.
In both cases warning signs were erected around the estuary and immediate areas warning against swimming and the collection of seafood due to the public health risk of possible contamination from sewerage in the water and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, the region’s environmental watchdogs were alerted.
“But how does sewerage get in the stormwater?” you might rightly ask.
It’s to do with infrastructure, namely pipes.
Ideally rain falls from the sky, onto your roof, into your spouting and into the stormwater system via gutters and stormwater drains / creeks and eventually into rivers / lakes / out to sea.
Unfortunately some spouting goes into the wrong drains around the house – Wastewater drains from bathrooms, showers, laundries, which gets treated with sewerage from.. um.. “other drains”.
During severe weather events, such as the one we’ve just gone through, having the wrong pipe going into the wrong drain can greatly increase the amount of wastewater in the system.
But Hastings and rural Hawke’s Bay had more rain than Napier did – at one stage I saw a reading of 191mm for HB, 66mm for Hastings and “only” 43mm for Napier in the 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday.
So how come Hastings only started to feel the effects of the severe weather a day or so later, with Porta-loos distributed to some residents in the suburb of Akina, as their stormwater and sewerage systems stated to struggle?
It could be something to do with Napier being coastal – The seas were certainly huge for most of the week and it would be hard for the water to drain out to sea when the sea is doing its best to get onto the land.
It could be the fact we’re the lowest point above sea level in Hawke’s Bay.
Water naturally runs downhill and it might take a day or so of heavy rain for natural drains to back up the height difference between Napier and Hastings.
Or it could be that the city’s pipe infrastructure just isn’t up to it.
It has been known for some time that Napier’s water infrastructure was aging badly and in need of repair soon, if not overdue.
This has been the problem with Napier’s drinking water – It isn’t Hawke’s Bay’s aquifer quality being sub-par – The water down there is just as clean and pure as usual, it’s been council infrastructure – Bores, pipes and reservoirs letting the side down .
You might remember during the region’s contentious amalgamation debate and vote three years ago that Napier’s infrastructure was a rather large sore point.
I was strongly opposed to amalgamation, seeing the way it was promoted merely as a cynical attempt to sell off and/or privatise council departments (like water) and assets.
Amalgamationalists claimed Napier’s pipes were in a bad way and would likely cost many millions to repair / replace, while NCC’s vanguard staunchly defended its underground assets.
“Napier is very well positioned to meet any future infrastructure related growth or renewal challenges.”
“The short answer is Napier’s infrastructure, I can assure you, is in excellent shape.”
Napier Mayor, Bill Dalton. September 2015
It looks like council hierarchy might have, yet again, spoken too soon.
Even the NZ Auditor General’s office piped up, so to speak, on Twitter after this week’s rain referencing some 2016 stormwater analysis.
But the most odd pronouncement over the issue must go to the regional paper, Hawke’s Bay Today’s, new editor, who wrote on the weekend after the deluge that “A Wee Bit of Wee Never Hurt Anyone, We Hope ”.
That was just outright bizarre!
Or maybe he just needs to talk to the mother whose child got sick after swimming in Pandora Pond.
Again, his newspaper reported on the incident.
Whichever way you look at it SOMETHING needs to be done – And QUICKLY!
After last year’s rain event and stormwater release the Regional Council said the deluge was a “Once-in-Five-Year” event, but had since scaled that estimation back to once-a-year”.
To its credit, Napier City Council has put aside over $20 million for refurbishing its water systems in the coming years, but after almost back-to –back yearly events, could it be too little, too late?
Our climate is changing (whether radio host Leighton Smith believes it or not) and the weather is getting more severe, more often.
Sea levels are expected to rise and Napier’s population is expected to grow by at least 2,000 households in the next ten years – Increasing the demands and challenges on infrastructure even more.
If we don’t do something to counter its effects fast, we face severe safety and public health issues and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s environmental regulatory department and some regional councillors have already aired concerns and displeasure with how Napier City Council management has dealt with these recent events.
Perhaps we could delay some of the council’s glamour projects, like the $45 million seafront Aquarium upgrade until we have the city’s water supplies going in and out the right ways.
After all, who will visit the refurbished aquarium if we’re all too sick, or washed away to get there?