Kayakers, paddlers and the local wildlife may have braved Gisborne's rivers at their own peril - but you won't see any swimmers in them.

"It's disgusting," Gisborne resident Marianne Gillingham says.

"When you're out paddling you can see that foamy slick, greasy brown thick slick and you can see it on the sides of the waka."

That brown slick is raw sewage which has been discharged into Gisborne's rivers at least four times in the past two months.

Mrs Gillingham says: "It's really quite hazardous to go paddling in it if you have any open sores because people get really bad infections from it."

Temporary signs warning people to stay out of the water are becoming more like permanent fixtures and locals have had enough.

Nick Tupara of Ngati Oneone says that from an iwi perspective it's "abhorrent".

"We need to have a more robust system that gives us more options."

Gisborne has been extremely wet over the past two months.

April was the third wettest on record and the city's stormwater system can't cope.

Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon says the issue is not acceptable, but many of the issues are not due to the council.

Mr Foon says the council has already spent millions upgrading their half of the city's system, now it's up to private homeowners to sort the rest, and if they don't they will be penalised.

"Within 12 months you are to fix your sewer line and if you don't do that we will get our plumber to fix it and charge your rates and you will pay the interest on top of that as well."

It's estimated to cost $13 million to fix the problem. Each homeowner asked to fix their system will be liable for up to $10,000.

But council will be giving free inspections and advice.

"I think the problem is the whole of New Zealand it's not just the Gisborne District Council," the Mayor says.

"Maybe we are just a bit more open about it, we are very transparent because we let our community know as soon as there is an event."

Mr Foon has been Mayor since 2001, he says the storm water system has always been at the forefront of the council's agenda.

He says the fact that only a few homes now have sewage coming back up onto their properties is a sign they're making progress.

But Mr Tupara says as New Zealanders we need to be doing better.

Mrs Gillingham agrees, she says the current situation is "third world" and it's time to go "back to basics".

The Mayor's warning to homeowners has not yet been enshrined in council policy, but he says he's planning to send them a letter in the next few weeks.

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