29 Jan 2018

Sewage hit Auckland beach almost deserted

6:49 pm on 29 January 2018

Milford Beach on Auckland's North Shore was virtually deserted today after a major sewage leak.

Milford Beach public health warning.

Milford Beach public health warning. Photo: RNZ / Nikki Mandow

A break in a main sewer line early yesterday morning led to sewage flowing into gardens, and even into some homes on Alma Road.

The sewage then flowed into Wairau Creek and from there on to Milford Beach, according to Watercare.

Several homes were evacuated, and Auckland Council's Safeswim group posted contamination warning signs all over the beach.

Sheryl Raymond-Dow lives in an apartment block on the beach and swims every day in summer. She decided to brave the sea after talking to a Safeswim official on patrol at the beach.

But most people stayed away.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm swimming ... This is a big body of water and it's beautiful in there. It's clear as, a bit of seaweed, but there's nothing else.

"Still, I don't put my head under, and I shower when I get out."

Children brave the water on Milford Beach, where a public heath warning is in effect.

Children brave the water on Milford Beach, where a public heath warning is in effect. Photo: RNZ / Nikki Mandow

Ms Raymond-Dow said she and other residents in her building were angry about the situation, a sentiment another local, Lian Jones, can understand. She lives with her family in one of the most affected houses on Alma Road, and they received a rude awakening yesterday.

"At three o'clock in the morning we had firemen knocking on our door saying 'Stay inside, but if you do go outside, put your gumboots on and don't touch anything.'"

Ms Jones said the room where she teaches music was the one where sewage came right into the house, leaving her worried about her students, who should be starting lessons tomorrow.

The hot weather meant it was also frustrating being unable to use the local beach, she said.

Alma Road cleanup.

Alma Road cleanup. Photo: RNZ / Nikki Mandow

Pollution is an increasingly common problem on the North Shore beaches. Auckland Council has issued contamination warnings for Milford and other North Shore beaches at least three times this year alone, most related to sewage overflow after big storms.

It's not clear when Milford beach will get the all clear this time, as Safeswim does not actually know if the water at Milford Beach is still contaminated or not.

The break in the sewage pipe was fixed at 7pm yesterday, and it should not take long for any sewage to be cleaned out of the Wairau Creek, according to Martin Neale, technical lead at Safeswim.

But no water samples were taken yesterday because testing labs were closed on Sundays. And while Mr Neale was at the beach early this morning to take samples, it will take about 18 hours before he gets any results.

"The sewage would have made it to the beach at some point yesterday, but we don't know how widespread and what the effects of that sewage would have been once it hits the sea."

The initial contamination warning was issued yesterday and lasts 48 hours, so the council will reconsider the situation at 9am Tuesday morning, Mr Neale said.

Meanwhile, 16 other Auckland beaches have permanent warnings on them that they are too polluted for swimming.

The Wairau Creek has had a long-term warning since at least 2000, although Watercare is now taking action.

"There was a big stormwater upgrade around the Wairau Valley last year, and Watercare are in the middle of replacing the main sewer line that runs down Wairau Valley - a $15 million project," Mr Neale said.

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