Auckland's dirty beaches and sewage overflows into the harbours are at crisis point and require decades of serious funding and strong leadership from Auckland Council, says a coalition of community groups.
A new water quality rate targeted rate being proposed by council to raise $400 million has the backing of Stop Auckland Sewage Overflow Coalition(SASOC), which says the money is necessary to make Auckland a world leader in clean water.
Every year, 2.2m cu m of sewage, wastewater, trade waste and untreated stormwater carrying heavy metal and other pollutants pours into the Auckland environment, says SASOC.
Poor water quality is no longer acceptable to me and it's no longer acceptable to the majority of Aucklanders who love our beaches
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Initial feedback on the council's 10-year budget found 45 per cent support for the targeted water quality rate of $66 for the average household a year with 36 per cent opposed and 19 per cent who do not know.
The poor water quality of the city's beaches, streams and harbours hit the spotlight after a Herald investigation last year and a new Safeswim website this summer gave people real time information about the water quality at 92 beaches and swimming spots.
David Abbott, a SASOC spokesman, said it was going to take until 2050 for a region wide upgrade of the city's water infrastructure. The biggest worry is politicians will put the issue in the too-hard basket and stop work, he said.
He said plans in the 10-year budget for Watercare to spend $2 billion, including the $1.2b 'central interceptor' wastewater tunnel, and $400m from the targeted rate on stormwater, was largely focused on the central isthmus.
By the time the next 10-year budget rolls round in three years, Abbott said the council needs to have a plan to upgrade the whole of Auckland's water infrastructure to meet the environmental protection and pollution management standards of a 'water sensitive city' by 2050.
In a submission on the current 10-year budget, SASOC said the root cause of the sewage overflows is untreated stormwater entering the water networks and the "perennial inability" of Auckland Council to fund the treatment and safe disposal of stormwater.
It said the central interceptor is an important infrastructure project - reducing overflows in the central isthmus by 80 per cent - but it is only a temporary solution.
This gives council breathing space to take pressure off the combined wastewater and stormwater pipe network, but will not provide a complete or a permanent solution.
"As Auckland's population grows Watercare Services will need it(the central interceptor) for wastewater on its own," the submission said.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff's focus is on the 2018-2028 10-year budget, which he says sets out the critical investment and new funding mechanisms needed to clean up the city's beaches and waterways.
Goff said the budget outlines council's plans to address decades of underinvestment in stormwater and wastewater system, while keeping rates low and reasonable.
"Poor water quality is no longer acceptable to me and it's no longer acceptable to the majority of Aucklanders who love our beaches.
"A water quality targeted rate of around $1.30 per week for the average residential household will enable us to clean-up our harbours and waterways and do in ten years what normally would have taken 30," Goff said.
SASOC is made of up of 18 community groups, mostly from suburbs bordering the Waitemata Harbour from Kohimarama to Whau.