Wastewater overflow pollutes popular Auckland beach

Auckland's Okahu Bay (John MacDonald)
Auckland's Okahu Bay (John MacDonald)

Sanitary items have been washing out of wastewater pipes into one of Auckland's popular inner-city beaches and upsetting local residents, but Watercare says overflows are a regular occurrence.

A multitude of sanitary pads and tampons were spotted flowing from wastewater pipes at Okahu Bay, and manager of the Okahu catchment ecological restoration plan Richelle Kahui-McConnell says she could still see the items on the beach when she took students to clean it up last Friday.

She says there was a "really rank smell which indicates it's raw sewage", caused from an overflow incident.

Although the storm water system has had a stream of issues ranging as far back to 1914, this time it's a "real concern".

"The concerning matter is that this happened on a dry period and it hasn't done this before," she says.

Ms Kahui-McConnell has been working for the catchment plan for seven years and says she hasn't seen anything like this before.

Glendowie resident John MacDonald swims every week at Kohimarama Beach with Nicholas Jeffrey, and noticed the water quality was poor and a bad stench around four weeks ago.

"A week later I was riding past Okahu and I could smell sewage and could see all this stuff coming out of the storm water pipes," says Mr McDonald.

Wastewater overflow pollutes popular Auckland beach

Mr Jeffrey contacted Ms Kahui-McConnell, who also works for Ngati Whatua, on Feb 26 to advise of the sewerage.

"I previously worked with [Ngati Whatua] and knew they were concerned about the quality of the water in the bay," he says.

"I called the Auckland Council on Monday to find out if they were doing anything and was pushed onto Watercare who requested copies of the photos."

Mr Jefferey says Watercare told him it wasn't their responsibility to test the quality of the water in the bay, but they would investigate once they received photos.

Watercare has since told Newshub they received Mr Jeffery's phone call on Monday, and sent a team to investigate "within hours".

Watercare says a nearby wastewater pipe had become blocked with fat and rags, causing the volume of wastewater to build up in the network and escape into the bay.

A team cleared the blockage with a sucker truck, and over the past two days carried out tests, which found the overflow caused no contamination.

However, Watercare says overflow caused by fat, rags or wet wipes is a common occurrence and a growing problem.

"We are working to educate our customers on what steps they can take to minimise blockages and keep our beaches and environment clean," says communications manager Rachel Hughes.

Up to 90 tonnes of fat, oil or grease is removed from some sucker truck tanks yearly.

The company urges residents to be cautious when putting things down the drain. It says even something as small as a bread tag can cause a pump to trip.

Wastewater overflow pollutes popular Auckland beach

It recommends putting fat into the rubbish bin or installing a grease trap.