Christchurch's wastewater stench described as a '400-year-old long drop toilet' as residents continue to endure smell

Whānau in Ōtautahi say they've had to put up living with a stench described as rotting sewage for far too long.  

The stench was caused by a major fire at the Christchurch Wastewater Treatment Plant in Bromley in November 2021.

The fires caused major damage to trickling filters, which treat all of Christchurch's sewage.

Initially the stench came from the burnt trickling filters themselves and the burnt remains of the material inside. But with the trickling filters not fully operational, there is now an increase in solids and biological material entering oxidation ponds.

South Brighton mum Karena Tui loves nothing more than taking a walk around the block with her whānau. But for the last eight months she hasn't been able to enjoy living in her community due to the putrid smell.

"It smells like a mix between a chemical smell and like if you heated up or went into a 400-year-old long drop toilet."

Tui said living with the stench is unbearable and is making her whānau sick.

"It's depressing. My wife, who has chronic respiratory issues and asthma, has just continuously been in a state of not feeling like she can breathe. 

"Me, I've had headaches, I'm not prone to getting unwell."

Gary Watson has been managing the community response to the Bromley fire for the Christchurch City Council. He admits the council was initially slow in its response.

"I've spent a lot of time driving around and going to elderly people and standing in backyards and reassuring people that, you know, the process of the smell."

Helen Beaumont, the head of Three Waters of Christchurch City Council, is leading the clean-up effort.

She said her team has spent the last six months putting in place an interim treatment process to replace what was happening in the trickling filters.

"Unfortunately, until we've done 100 percent of that work, connected up all of the pipes, started all of the pumps, and established that new process, we won't see a change in the effluent quality or in the ponds or in the odour."

The council is on track to address the high level of odours coming off the oxidation pond by early September.

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and the Public Interest Journalism Fund.