Aucklanders have been waiting a long time for the day they will no longer see health warnings appear on some of their beaches after heavy rain. They have long known the reason this happens - old sewers also carry stormwater and overflow after a downpour - and they have often been assured the solution, separation of the pipes, was under way.
Yesterday the Weekend Herald revealed the separation programme has been quietly abandoned and replaced with a solution that will take much longer. The "Super City" decided the former Auckland City Council's plan would cause "massive disruption" and that it will be cheaper to install new interceptors for the overflow from the combined drains.
Somehow this will take longer than laying a new network of pipes, which was to be done by 2021. Now it will be 2035 before the remedial work is completed, and then it will not be a complete solution. The Auckland Council's "health waters" manager, Craig Mcilroy said, "Overflows can be reduced to the extent they compromise public safety or the ecological health of our waterways.
"However, it would not be a wise use of ratepayer money to completely eliminate them as extreme weather events, which cannot be contained in the network, will occur from time to time."
They will occur with increasing frequency if climate change implications are correct. In the meantime, Auckland has having a population surge. Immigration is at levels unseen since 1974 and most of the people are settling in Auckland. The consequent demand for housing and associated infrastructure is immense.
To meet it, the council is keen to see more intensive housing in the older inner suburbs served by the century-old drains carrying both sewage and surface water. When they overflow raw sewage reaches the Waitemata or Manukau harbours at 41 points and those third-world beach warnings appear. Today we highlight those beaches. It is a disgrace.
At other times of year it is perfectly safe to swim in the sea around Auckland, and at this time of year the water at islands in the Gulf can be so crystal clear it is hard to believe a city of more than a million people is nearby. But it is a rapidly growing city and its infrastructure is struggling to keep up.
Road congestion is only the most visible sign of stress on its networks. Below ground there is even greater strain at times. Those drains have to be fixed before many more houses are connected to them, whatever the cost.