Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Auckland must clean up act on water - report

Stormwater falling by wayside, researchers find.

Auckland's approach to water quality has been criticised. Photo / APN
Auckland's approach to water quality has been criticised. Photo / APN

The health of Auckland's harbours and streams is continuing to deteriorate under a mostly 1950s approach to stormwater, says a report obtained by the Herald.

The report highlights a lack of leadership on stormwater, fragmentation, underperformance and the issue being out of kilter with Mayor Len Brown's vision of making Auckland the world's most liveable city.

It recommends a single entity for water, wastewater and stormwater, and encourages Auckland to move towards being a "water-sensitive city" where stormwater delivers a range of environmental benefits.

The report, by an Australian research centre for water-sensitive cities, looks at stormwater management practices in Auckland. It was commissioned by the council's stormwater unit.

It said Auckland was adopting the language of water sensitivity and had aspirations of environmental protection, but most work reflected the 1950s to 1970s practice of flood protection.

Most water-sensitive projects - including Waitakere's Project Twin Streams, and the Long Bay and Stonefields residential developments - had occurred before the Super City was formed in 2010, with limited evaluation of what did and did not work.

The authors - three academics from Melbourne's Monash University - interviewed council staff, developers, consultants and researchers.

Many people said that while important policy changes were being made, they "are likely to be softened to accommodate the priority of affordable land development" and the "dominant agenda of growth".

Said the authors: "Achieving Auckland's vision to be the world's most liveable city will require the environment and water sensitivity to be prioritised and integrated within development and infrastructure decisions."

At last October's local body elections, Mr Brown said conserving the environment, including improved harbour water quality, was one of his 10 priorities.

The environment - and stormwater - were not included in Mr Brown's list of six strategies for 2014.

A 2011 council report said it would cost $9.9 billion to fix the stormwater system over the next 50 years, including $5.4 billion to bring the network up to scratch and a further $4.5 billion to support population growth. This year's budget has $91.3 million allocated for capital spending on stormwater and flood protection.

At two confidential workshops in July and August on a review of the seven council-controlled organisations, councillors will consider "synergy and linkages between stormwater, water supply and wastewater".

A council spokesman said it had seen a copy of the report and it would be considered at an upcoming meeting of the environment, climate change and natural heritage committee.

What they said

The report authors interviewed council staff and others. Here are some of the comments.

"Everybody wants a clean, healthy, productive marine environment but this is not reality. Addressing the disconnect is actually very, very difficult. It's dollars, tough decisions about development, methodologies and things.''

"We have no champion to push water sensitivity to the next level.''

"[Water management] doesn't feel co-ordinated in an ongoing fashion. We have lots of one-off strategies, but not a consistent approach, and nothing enduring.''

"Environmental stewardship has been diluted.''

- NZ Herald

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