Piha Opinion

Back to basics – lagoon pollution

15 Comments 06 January 2015

Waitakere Ranges Local Board should get back to the basics

Millions on arts and culture plus other flash environmental projects but can’t get the basics right like ensuring sewage doesn’t get in the waterways.  Thousands spent doing Auckland Transport’s work with roadside weeds.  Incredible amount of money spent concerning themselves with Regional Parks job and budget – get back to basics please.

CleanStreams04I have been on the Piha Water Quality group for 3 years and am well familiar with the issues.  During this time I have said that many of the  pollutants start at the top of our terrain and during rain is washed down over all sorts of land, drains, flooded areas before it reaches our streams.  See (**) below. To focus on stream side properties is very narrow thinking, in my opinion,  when the amount of storm water than crosses these properties, from roads and other terrain,  is exceptional with heavy rain.

To look at bulldozing the lagoon to ‘wash it out’ is again ambulance at the bottom of the cliff is it not?  And I’m not sure what effect that will have on the surf breaks.  I’ve heard many surfers say to just leave the beach alone !  Some have suggested planting the dunes has ruined the surf – wonder what their thoughts on bulldozing sand would be ?

Those with old septic tanks pay $180+gst a year, as a separate rate, to have their septic emptied and inspected each 3 years.  That is $621 in real terms for each inspection and emptying.  The contractors are supposed to report, to the owner and council, any defects and then follow up.   They do a very poor job.

Those with new tanks must have them privately serviced and a copy of the service record sent to council.

In early February 2013 I started an initiative called Piha Clean Streams Project (facebook) I approached known “good people ”  with this idea:

“The continuing pollution readings of the Piha waterways is a great concern to me.  I am proposing to Piha folk who have properties bordering the waterways to implement a 2 – 3 meter appropriate plantings to filter the runoff which will help considerably.   I am looking for sponsorship as Council’s budget is chokka.”

  • In initial dialogue with Council more specific information on the aims so I followed with this

“To reduce or stop the flow of polluting organisms into the Piha Lagoon and North Piha Lagoon so that we have natural healthy waterways which is a home to NZ’s native flora and fauna.”

An idea that if we, as a community,  worked on our stream sides vegetation to stop erosion, a contributor to pollution, and filter water entering the streams then we would be doing our ‘bit’.

$1500 was donated immediately by ‘Piha Locals and businesses that use Piha commercially’.  Private land owners could

  1. pay nothing if they couldn’t afford it  or
  2. make a part contribution to plant cost if they could afford it or
  3. pay full amount (wholesale) if they could afford it.
  4. my time – FREE

Plants were ordered:

Carex flagellifera PB 3 37 4.00 148.00; Carex virgata Waitakere PB 3 37 4.00 148.00
Carex lessoniana Waitakere PB 3 37 4.00 148.00; Gahnia setifolia PB 3 37 6.00 222.00
Cortaderia fulvida Grounds- Unsourc PB 3 60 4.00 240.00
Apodasmia similis PB 3 100 4.00 400.00
Sub Total: $1,306.00
GST Total: $195.90
Proforma Total: $1,501.90

CleanStreams03The land we’re talking about is a mix of private, Local Parks and Regional Parks.  No problems with private land owners.  There is so much flooding stream side of Glenesk Road that to filter it was a ‘no brainer’.

I have never had to deal with so much bureaucracy in my life when it came to Council.  Could I not start on the stream sides beside the Domain?  No!  You start at the beginning of the problem not the damned end.   To this day $1500 is still being held in credit at Oratia Native .

To save sanity I canned the whole thing and the $1500 donated is still with Oratia.  Sometimes it’s just ‘too hard’ and I don’t give up easily.  The attitude toward volunteers was/is absolutely disrespectful.   Piha CoastCare suffers the same attitudes from various council departments and our Local Board.

What we have known for some time:

The sources of faecal pollution of the West Coast lagoons originate from people’s on-site wastewater (septic) systems as well as dog, bird, livestock and unidentified faecal sources.

By determining the biological source of the pollution of the West Coast lagoons, recommendations can be made to reduce that pollution. The results show that a range of animal faecal sources are polluting the lagoons.
• Karekare lagoon is polluted by human and dog faecal sources
• Piha lagoon is polluted by human and wildfowl faecal sources
• North Piha lagoon is polluted by degraded human faecal sources
• Te Henga lagoon is polluted by human, dog, wildfowl and livestock faecal sources, where livestock are the dominant source
• All lagoons had occasions when the biological source of faecal pollution could not be identified

All of the lagoons have a Microbiological Assessment Category of ‘D’ under this criteria indicating they have regular exceedances of the national guidelines.

Specific markers for ruminant, dog, wildfowl and also a general faecal marker were assayed by the laboratory. The general marker indicates potential faecal contamination from human, cat, dog, cow, sheep, deer, horse, goat, pig, rabbit, possum, duck, swan, seagull, goose and chicken sources (ESR 2013).

(**) Samples taken directly from the culvert receiving stormwater run-off from the Seaview Rd sub-catchment showed a combination of human markers which is additional evidence of a human source of contamination. Because this stormwater ultimately enters the Piha lagoon it is likely that wastewater systems in this part of the catchment are contributing to its contamination.

I know a number of the council staff working on identifying the pollutants and looking for remedies.  They are good people. Support them please.

Our Local Board has a $50,000 fund for incentives to support home owners who need to repair or replace their septic tanks.  My thoughts, if we’re serious ab out this, is for Council to give interest free loans to upgrade septics, if needed, and for the loan to be paid back at a manageable rate through owners rates.

Your Comments

15 Comments so far

  1. Julia says:

    Maybe the Local Board can put some of the Twin Streams budget into coastal streams. How many thousands of dollars has the WRLB put into Twin Streams since 2010 while ignoring this matter of Piha pollution for years and years and years. It STINKS!

  2. Bobbie Carroll says:

    Issues I have highlighted while on the Water Quality Group:
    * Septic tank lids should be sealed after emptying to stop flood water entering.
    * Increased ground ‘water levels’ may be affecting septic drainage areas.
    * Increased surface water contributing to wash-over pollution.
    * Stream side erosion.

  3. Penny says:

    Just wanted to add we had our tank pumped this year (Oratia) and the contractors (new sub-contractors as of last year) sent a note to council and required us to replace the lid as it wasn’t sealing correctly. We never knew and it’s been the same lid since we moved here 10 years ago. But in our case the new contractors were requiring a higher standard. (Which is hopefully a good sign). Thought planting the stream side for some natural filtration would have been a good thing???

  4. Malcolm Miller says:

    Amazing the trucks have turned up to empty the septic tanks, how convenient. Will the media find out about why the tanks were not emptied well before Xmas, or would that embarrass the local board members.

  5. I don’t know what you are suggesting, Malcolm. I don’t know why you think septic tanks should be emptied before Christmas.The clearing times are staggered to allow the contractors to get around the whole area of the Waitakere Ranges Local Board Area that is on septic tanks. The LB does not decide when the contractors turn up at specific locations. Mine is due in February and I have no problem about that. Streamside planting could never, and should not, deal with run-off from septic tanks. Human faecal matter should not be entering waterways, simple as that. We have to deal with the problem at the source, the malfunctioning septic tank.

  6. Malcolm Miller says:

    Isn’t it logical to empty septic tanks that could potentially overflow into the main stream that feeds the Piha lagoon. If these tanks are already full and residents in this area have visitors for Xmas and New Year there is the potential for them to overflow. Your property is know were near a stream, so I can’t see what relevance your septic tank has to this issue. If the Local Board has no say in the timetable for cleaning, don’t you think the board should make sure they have some say as this is an annual problem. The latest test has shown it is now safe again, have you informed the media so visitors to the area can see this was only a short term spike

  7. The problem with Piha’s waterways, is not so much septic tanks overflowing, which would happen only occasionally with the 3-yearly pump-out system, but septic tanks that leak. The assessments that will be offered by the Council from February will be checking for defects like this. Regarding results of water testing, the Council constantly posts these results on its web site where they are available to the public – and the media. Anyone can check any time.

  8. Bobbie Carroll says:

    The reports don’t back that up ‘bestforthewest’. A 2010 report lists the following factors: Flooding, poor drainage, storm water infiltration or overland flow, overloading/excessive water use, high groundwater level, small and/or steep disposal area, land subsistence, root intrusion, pump failure. It doesn’t mention ‘leaking tanks’.

    This year we had overflow. We immediately stopped using all water and toilet. We phoned to have it emptied but the company told us it’ll be full again in a week – the problem was all over Waitakere. He was so busy, he said, and the problem was water table and overland flow. The water table was above the outflow ! We took immediate remedial action, with neighbours cooperation, and fortunately had our second property we could use in the mean time.

    It won’t happen again – we have diverted the huge amount of storm water we get from above us.

  9. Malcolm Miller says:

    Good on you Bobbie for having the correct information. All I see is a selective memory from other parties to suit their own agenda

  10. Well good on you Bobbie, for taking good care of your septic tank. If everyone at Piha did so there would be clean waterways and lagoons. So Malcolm, I don’t understand your jibes about “selective memory” and “own agenda”. We heard last night that the “Living Lagoons” programme, offering assessments of septic tanks, will be looking for malfunctions, including leaks. That’s why they sometimes put dye through septic tanks. The facts here are that malfunctioning septic tanks on private property are polluting waterways on public land that the public wants to swim in. It’s not useful or fair pointing the finger at Council. Everyone, residents and Council has to work together to solve the problem. Thankfully, lots of people can see the sense in that.
    Sandra Coney
    Chair WRLB

  11. Malcolm Miller says:

    So it has not been proven there is any leaks, my whole point is the tanks should be emptied well before Xmas and more frequent. The Council takes approximately $600 from the rate payers over three years. A single empty costs approximately $300, what has the money being used for?

  12. Bobbie Carroll says:

    The point being Sandra is the ‘water table’ and ‘storm water’ . . . both increasing problems with the change in the nature of rain we are experiencing now. More tropical – very heavy torrential downpours. Those in the valley are experiencing far more overland water from up the hill than ever before.

  13. Except there has been no rain between Christmas and now, so if it isn’t stormwater flow, how do you think the lagoon got polluted in the last couple of weeks?

  14. Malcolm Miller says:

    Overflow from tanks that weren’t emptied before Xmas, and it can take months for the overflow to reach the stream when it filters through the soil


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