Heading to the beach to enjoy the summer is part of our birthright as Aucklanders.

It's how we remember growing up in our city. It's something we want for our kids and grandchildren.

We like to think of our environment as clean, green, 100 per cent pure and that's how we and New Zealand promote ourselves to the world.

Sadly, however, that is not the current reality and hasn't been for a very long time. When it rains, beaches around Auckland are not safe to swim in.


Read more:
Takapuna Beach closed after sewage flows between flags

Stormwater flows into wastewater sewage lines and overflows into our streams and beaches, and pollution washes off our roads into our waterways.

Our new SafeSwim system shows in real-time which beaches are safe to swim at and which aren't.

It's a great system, well ahead of anything else in New Zealand, but it also highlights the problem with our water quality.

For many of our beaches, water pollution is a temporary thing, but for 16 beaches around our city closure notices are long standing and permanent.

For most of the time you can't swim at places like Cox's Bay, Meola Reef, Weymouth Beach, Langholm, Wood Bay, Green Bay and Titirangi Beach, the West Coast lagoons, Little Oneroa Lagoon on Waiheke and Clarks Beach.

It's time for us to act and fix this problem and restore our water quality to a level we can be proud of.

It's not a new problem. Stormwater has been causing wastewater overflows into our harbours for a century. However, for a world class city in the 21st century which is what Auckland aspires to be, this is no longer acceptable.

Current planning and investment levels in our storm and waste water systems mean poor water quality will persist for 30 years. I want to change this.

With the right level of investment we can clean up our beaches and harbours within a decade, reducing wastewater overflows by as much as 80 – 90 per cent.

One of our biggest problems is on our Western Isthmus where over 70 outfalls overflow into the Waitemata between 25 and 60 times a year.

To solve that we have to separate stormwater from wastewater where it is practical to do so and build a major new central wastewater interceptor.

This will also allow more intensive housing and help future proof Auckland.

That's not cheap. It will cost around $1 billion but you can't keep growing a city by 50,000 extra residents a year and not invest in infrastructure to match that growth.

Other projects planned include a $6 million Northcote water pipeline upgrade, completing the $18 million Glen Eden wastewater storage tank, similar to those we have built in Kohimaramara and on Fred Thomas Drive in Takapuna, and the $535 million northern interceptor to increase the capacity of our wastewater network in Auckland's north-west.

We need better responses to leaking septic tanks which cause problems at a number of our beaches. We need to address rural contamination of streams and high levels of siltation of our harbours.

Our goal is to produce uniformly high environmental standards across the whole city, and to meet those costs collectively.

For small communities like Kawakawa Bay on the Hauraki Gulf, cleaning up a heavily polluted beach caused by septic tanks, which ran into the tens of millions of dollars, would not have been possible if loaded only onto that small community.

So how do we find the funding to clean up our city's water quality and ensure that we can within a reasonable time frame make our beaches safe to swim?

As a council, together with Watercare, we are already investing $5.5 billion in capital infrastructure to provide for fresh water, wastewater and stormwater. This is paid for out of water and general rates and through borrowing.

However, we need to raise more revenue in order to bring forward projects. We need to act to tackle problems which have been in the too-hard basket for too long, and passed from one generation to the next unresolved.

In our 10-year budget which is going out for consultation in March, we are proposing a targeted rate averaging $1.30 a week per household which will be used solely for the purpose of improving our water quality.

For poorer communities this cost will be less and for high value properties a little more.

That will allow council to raise the money to tackle a problem which should have been dealt with long ago.

Read more: Mayor's 10-year plan

It will make our environment cleaner and water quality better. It will make beaches safe for our children and grand-children to swim in.

A targeted rate is transparent. You know exactly where your money is going and what we are achieving with it.

The cost of the rate will be offset by the removal from July 1, 2018, of the $2.19 a week Interim Transport Levy on rates.

It will also be offset by the savings achieved by implementing recommendations from the Value for Money reviews which Council is conducting across all areas of Council spending.

I believe Aucklanders will support investment in cleaning up our environment and restoring water quality.

It is an obligation that we all have to our children and future generations – to leave our environment in a better condition than we found it.

Editor's note: Mayor Phil Goff wrote this opion piece well before the news about Takapuna Beach broke. Aucklanders will be given the chance to have their say on the council's 10-year plan, which includes the water targeted rate, in March 2018.