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'I Smelt It, I Felt It': Porirua Council Acts In Hope Of Stopping Sewage Overflows

Kate Green , Journalist

Porirua leaders have voted in favour of upgrading a wastewater pump station, in the hopes of stopping recurring sewage overflows into the sea at Tītahi Bay.

On Thursday morning, about 80 locals squashed into the Porirua City Council's chambers to demand action on a problem which has been plaguing them for years.

It is not a new problem. Residents have complained of a horrible smell, visible sewage and toilet paper spilling out of ocean drains out to sea, for years.

Councillor Kathleen Filo had put forward an amendment to the Long Term Plan, which would see the council fully funding an upgrade to the station within the next three years.

"Raw sewage is not making it up to the treatment plant via the pump station, it's going straight out into our waters," she said.

And because the system didn't contain a flow meter: "We don't know how much, we only know how long it's gone for."

Sometimes the overflow could continue for days.

Many had reported falling sick after swimming.

Local resident Michelle Warshawsky was one of these people. As a frequent ocean swimmer, she said the wastewater discharge often flowed into the bay on the tide, particularly after heavy rain, making for a pretty disgusting dip.

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She and a handful of locals had been pushing for change since 2019, demanding the council do better to measure the impact of the overflows from the Rukutane Point Pump Station, and better yet, do something to stop it.

"On Sunday the 14th of April I swam with the Tītahi Bay ocean swimmers. It was a clear day, and the sea looked great. But it wasn't, it was disgusting. I could taste it, feel it, smell it and see it."

The money would be sourced by reprioritising money earmarked for other water works.

Students from the local school had this to say to councillors: "We have got a simple message: We love our beach, can you please fix our pipes."

Surfer Joe Kelly said the bay was hugely popular among surfers, particularly young ones, but they didn't receive notification when there was an overflow.

"I was in the water in April and in March when those recent outpours happened. I smelt it, I felt it, and I had my nephew and my niece out with me."

Local iwi Ngāti Toa threw its support behind the amendment.

Its strategy pou Carra Hamon said the issue stretched back to her childhood.

As a seafaring iwi, she said her people's mana was directly harmed by the pollution continuing - not to mention its effects on kai moana.

"I leave that up to my cousins, they're the experts, and they know where to go, but look, it's not very nice to be swimming in tiko [s**."

The motion passed 10 votes to one, with Ross Leggett the only councillor opposed, citing "too many unknowns".

The council's general manager for infrastructure, Mike Mendonça, said Wellington Water didn't yet have a good cost estimate to renew or upgrade this pump station.

"A growth study last year identified that an increase of pumping capacity at this site would be a priority for growth, and that this would cost around $3.8m- $6.4m - however there is a very high level of uncertainty around this number."

The next step was to firm up the costs and to provide advice on the area that would be deprioritised.

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