Napier City Council is "derelict" in its responsibility to keep contaminants out of Ahuriri Estuary, says Hawke's Bay regional councillor Neil Kirton.
Napier stormwater from as far afield as Taradale is discharged into the estuary near the Hawke's Bay Expressway.
During heavy rain Napier City Council releases sewage. Neighbouring industries, some bordering tidal drains, have a history of spills.
Napier City Council has pointed to birds and cattle as been the source of some E. coli found in water samples, but Kirton doesn't buy it.
"There are those natural contaminations occurring but that's a smoke screen by the Napier City Council to avoid and to limit its exposure to bad press around what's happening to our estuary from city sources," he said.
"The urban spread, the wastewater that's going in there - they are the core issues."
Last summer, Napier City Council again removed its Splash Zone inflatables from the estuary's Pandora Pond because of poor water quality.
Napier City Council manager of environmental solutions Cameron Burton said drains in some areas held toxic substances, a legacy of past pollution, but making them safe could cause more pollution.
"To clean them out we have a risk that, by taking off the encapsulating layer of sediments on top, we might actually produce more contaminants," he said.
"They could create more risk downstream and more pollution issues."
His team diligently checks the drains for illegal discharges. Dry weather makes their job a lot easier.
"If it hasn't rained in the city for seven days and there's water coming out of a pipe, then it's probably not rainwater.
"Some of those pipes were carrying faecal coliforms like enterococci, some had heavy metals and some had ammonia. So there's quite a mix of contaminants coming through those pipes."
Offending drains are blocked and there are plans to tighten the regulatory regime to encourage a shift in attitudes away from "a sense of entitlement".
Kirton says it's the Napier City Council that needs to shift its attitude.
"There have been many, many reports and briefs that have come forward but the reality is very little has been done.
"We have contaminated it to where it is at a point of collapse. Napier City Council has been derelict in its responsibility.
"I am really concerned our local authority has not prioritised the estuary. They have turned their back and avoided its responsibility to ensure our wastewater systems are adequate to do the job. They are simply not up to it.
"They must prioritise protecting the estuary, this is simply not good enough."
He said the council seemed to focus on "glamorous projects".
Napier City Council is proposing putting $10 million towards a $50 million extension of its aquarium and a $41 million aquatic centre. Work on the aquatic centre is stalled pending a High Court decision after a group of ratepayers sued the council.
If built, it would border the main drainage channel discharging into the estuary.
"It's the estuary that should be the focus of attention and investment," Kirton said.
"Their plans are simply inadequate. They have to get on and ensure the waste that is being put into the system is being prevented."
Napier City Council chief executive Wayne Jack said he was unavailable for an interview.
Napier City Councillor Keith Price, chair of the strategy and infrastructure committee, also declined an interview saying he was advised he might breach the council's Code of Conduct.
Napier's Acting Mayor Faye White would also not be interviewed, saying it would be inappropriate for her to comment during the pre-election period. She is not running for re-election.
A written question submitted to her, relaying accusations of glamour projects over the environment, was referred to staff to answer.
The staff statement said there were many parties contributing contaminants to the estuary and the council was working with stakeholders to "further develop the current concepts into a detailed plan of action to improve the environmental, cultural and social values associated with the estuary".
"Council, through its Long-Term Plan (LTP), has committed to spending $20.6 million on stormwater improvements and $25.7 million on wastewater improvements over 10 years.
"The LTP is clearly focused on water and a number of core infrastructure projects, including the above mentioned wastewater and stormwater improvements. Within the Ahuriri Masterplan, five of the first 12 projects which will be carried out in this area relate to stormwater quality improvements, a total of $6.6m.
"Work which is focused directly on water quality improvements that has begun in the last financial year includes: CCTV internal pipe inspections and smoke testing (to see if there are any incorrect connections to the wastewater and stormwater networks), stormwater modelling, and initial stormwater contaminants information gathering and treatment options.
"Work has started this financial year on improving the quality of stormwater in the Pandora industrial area catchment. This has been preceded by the beginning of the joint Hawke's Bay Regional Council-Napier City Council stormwater campaign encouraging everyone in the community to take responsibility for, in short, making sure 'only rain goes down the drain'.
Burton says a new 200ha wetland is being investigated to "polish" water before it enters the estuary.
"The key thing to start with is to ascertain exactly whereabouts the actual particular contaminants and hydrocarbons and pollutants are as they come into the system, so that we can deal with them on site," he said.
A potential problem with a wetland there is that it would attract more birds to the estuary, right under the approach to Napier Airport.
Napier resident and regular estuary visitor Ron Wheeldon said council inaction over water quality denied Māori a traditional food source.
"[Māori] should be able, as of their right, to live out of it, have clean fish and swim in it," he said.
Central government's recently announced Three Waters Review could mean Napier is forced to clean up estuary discharges to a legislated timeline.
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