27 Jan 2021

Wellington businesses sick of constant 'poo-namis' stench after latest burst pipe

12:33 pm on 27 January 2021

Downtown Wellington workers and residents are fed up with the putrid stench of raw sewage pervading the city after a wastewater pipe burst.

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Workers see to a burst pipe and avoid raw sewage entering the harbour. Photo: RNZ/ Samuel Rillstone

A temporary fix only narrowly avoided raw sewage pouring into the harbour - raising fears of a repeat of last summer's outage when a burst pipe sent millions of litres of the stuff spewing into the waterfront.

Since the sewerage pipe broke under the city on Monday, people near the Civic Square area of downtown Wellington have been beset by a foul stink.

One worker said it smelt like sewage had been dumped in his office.

Another said it was "really bad", pervaded her shop and she could not get rid of it.

"Employees were finding it a little bit [nauseating]. So we shut the door and then we were really hot."

Ian Douglas owns The Village Goldsmith over the road from the burst pipe.

He said he had lost customers because of the smell.

"From a retail perspective it's a disaster when you have ... 20 metres outside your front door, essentially an open toilet.

"It doesn't do wonders for business whatsoever."

Work continues on the burst pipe.

Work continues on the burst pipe. Photo: Hamish Cardwell

The Wellington City Council asked residents and businesses in a large swath of of the CBD to conserve water, and only flush the toilet when absolutely necessary.

But many said they heard nothing from the council and wanted it to contact businesses and residents directly with a leaflet drop.

Chairperson of resident association Inner City Wellington, Reverend Stephen King, said the major outage last summer and multiple similar issues in 2020 had left those who lived and worked downtown resigned to expect more poo-namis this year.

"For us in the inner city this is more of a certainty ... it's a 'when' not 'if'."

A massive renewal programme of the city's ageing water infrastructure is in the works.

But King said locals were sick of waiting, and want to know more detail about what is in store so they can start planning for the inevitable disruption.

"People don't know 'when', I mean we don't know 'if' and we don't know 'how'.

"And I think that is the piece of work that hopefully we will see in 2021 is that we will have before the residents of the city ... laid out to us how [they're] going to fix the pipes."

A temporary fix is now in place, but there would continue to be traffic delays around Victoria Street by Civic Square for the rest of the week while the full repair was being completed.

Wellington Water chief executive Colin Crampton told Morning Report the leak occurred on Monday which was a public holiday.

"We did our best in my opinion."

The leak was on the corner of Mercer and Victoria streets.

He said before the sewage could flow into the harbour, there was an option for it to be directed into storage under the Michael Fowler Centre for up to six hours.

"It was nearly full, we used that full storage capacity but we were able to prod along that storage capacity because residents and that general area of the CBD that we asked to conserve water did that. And we had sucker trucks working round the clock."

Crampton said the system worked as it was designed to in the event of a break of that size.

"It was a little more complex than we've had in the past."

The fix would continue over the next three days, he said.

"The issue is around the asset. They were put in in the early 1900s and those are coming to the end of their lives and also the asbestos, the main parts we put in in the 50s are coming to the end of their lives," he said.

Crampton said Wellington Water would advice council on replacing the old pipes.

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