Auckland beaches get years-long swim safety warnings removed

Rebecca Moore
Source: 1News

Long-term safety warnings at three swimming locations in Auckland have been lifted following years of work to clean up the spots.

Wairau Estuary in Auckland.

Warnings at Titirangi, Wairau Outlet and Piha North Lagoon have on Thursday been removed following work by Auckland Council and Watercare's Safe Networks programme.

"Aucklanders love our region's beaches and it's fantastic to see the work we're doing to improve water quality, reduce contamination and make more beaches swimmable, delivering results," Auckland's Mayor Phil Goff said in a statement.

"The Safe Networks programme, funded by the Water Quality Targeted Rate, has identified and resolved contamination and network issues causing poor water quality at Titirangi and Wairau Outlet, and alongside further SafeSwim monitoring, has enabled us to lift the long-term warnings those beaches so they can be enjoyed by more Aucklanders this summer."

SafeSwim Programme Manager Nick Vigar told 1News discrete costs for this project across Auckland Council and Watercare for the investigative phase of the Titirangi project was about $250,000.

"This figure does not include the actual costs of the repairs. The total costs of repairs to the public networks (by Watercare and Auckland Council) and private connections (by individual property owners) are likely to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

He added that each of the three spots were different.

The water quality improvements at Titirangi Beach and Wairau Outlet follow interventions by the joint Auckland Council and Watercare’s Safe Networks programme. Investigations at Titirangi beach have resulted in a step-change in water quality.

"We run around and we literally, it's an investigative programme, so we test the water quality and the stormwater network and we pinpoint the areas that have issues then we go in and we do smoke testing and dye testing and property inspections and sort out the issues," Vigar said.

"We've basically been making our way through lots of those northern Manukau beaches like Titirangi, so lots of those long-term warnings have been in place since around 2000. Titirangi’s specifically was only placed in 2016."

When asked why it's taken so long from council, Vigar said it was because the council hadn't had a programme to actively go around and identify issues.

"A networks gets built and everyone forgets about it, but for example out in Titirangi I think you're talking about a sort of stormwater and wastewater network that's getting on for 100 years old, so the reality is it gets built but actually 100 years is more than the expected lifetime of a network," he said.

"It's just good operating procedure to have programmes in place to address it and I think that's what we're trying to do now."

But even now, he added that just because the long-term warnings had been removed it doesn't mean work is done.

"It's not like once we've removed the long-term warning that we necessarily consider that beach to be as good as we can get it and that's the important thing to contrast between Titirangi and Wairau Outlet," Vigar said.

"Wairau is a little different, it's a huge catchment, it's probably the biggest urban catchment in Auckland, certainly the most developed one, because of that it has some very complex water issues and I don't just mean around swimming guidelines."

Investigations at Wairau Outlet are ongoing, but water quality has improved enough to remove the long-term alert.

"The important thing about Wairau Outlet is that we don't consider it done, with Titirangi we've gone in and done all we could reasonably do for the moment and it's as good as I think we can get it but with Milford, with Wairau Outlet there will still be a lot of investigation at the catchment because while it's good to remove the long-term warning, after rainfall it will be one of the first beaches to go red (indicating unsafe swimming conditions on SafeSwim's website).

"So it's good and bad. Yes you can swim there in dry weather now but I don't want to pretend that there's not water quality issues in the catchment so it's an ongoing investigation."

Vigar said given the size of the catchment, work would continue for "the next few years".

However, North Shore Ward Councillor Richard Hills still said it was "huge news" to have the warning at Wairau Estuary removed after more than a decade.

"As a North Shore Councillor and Chair of Auckland’s Environment and Climate Change Committee I am extremely excited we are now able to remove the permanent water quality warning at the Wairau Estuary Outlet which has been in place since North Shore City put it in place in 2010," he told 1News.

Hills said North Shore City Council installed a long-term warning at Wairau Outlet in 2010 and Auckland Council stopped taking water quality samples at the location in 2012, but sampling was re-established after the launch of the SafeSwim programme in 2017.

"Our Healthy Waters and Watercare teams have done an excellent job of improving the water quality in the catchment though our investment from the Water Quality Targeted Rate," he said.

"We have heard loud and clear from our communities that improving water quality at our beaches and waterways is a massive priority and that is why we have put this regional investment into this work.

"There is still a lot of work to do but it's great to see Safe Networks and the Water Quality Targeted Rate investment continuing to show signs of success like it has in the Wairau Estuary, Titirangi and previously at Takapuna and other beaches and waterways across Tāmaki Makaurau."

In a Facebook post, Hills also thanked those involved in the clean-up.

"Thanks to all our workers who've gone through hundreds of properties checking and fixing infrastructure and working with many local residents to fix their private infrastructure which is often the main reason for the issues at the Wairau Estuary," he wrote.

"Thank you to (Milford) WEEPS and all the community advocacy to clean up our waterways especially here at the Wairau. Also Devonport Takapuna and Kaipātiki locals boards for their passion and advocacy and our Healthy Waters and Watercare teams.

"It’s not perfect and will be tough to get it right with such a huge catchment but it’s a massive step forward for our community."

Milford WEEPS spokesperson Guy Armstrong told 1News the group, which stands for Milford Wairau Estuary Environment Protection Society, was "really happy" with the announcement on Thursday.

He added that they were lucky to have good councillors, a supportive local board and a "whole heap of residents who formed a real ground swell that made the council take notice".

"The residents have volunteers their time, they've donated their money and made enough noise that we've achieved some change so that's really exciting for us," Armstrong said.

"We're grateful that the council has said it's going to keep monitoring the situation because this is only on point in time and new sewerage leaks are going to contaminate the estuary.

"We're totally in line with Mayor Goff when he says that Auckland's contaminated water is due to over a century of underinvestment in water infrastructure so leaks are going to continue to occur, pipes are going to continue to rust out and malfunction so the job's never going to be finished."

In addition to the removal of the long-term warnings, the council said nine beaches in Auckland have now been added to the Safeswim website to display its real-time water quality status.

People can now check conditions at Muriwai, Torpedo Bay, Kauri Point, St Annes, Gooseberry Flat, Karaka Bay, Chapman Strand, Taipari Strand and Te Tinana (Wilsons Beach).