Auckland Council's water manager, Andrew Chin, hopes beachgoers will use the new Safeswim website to check the water quality before they swim at the region's beaches.
1 What's different about the new water quality website Safeswim?
Safeswim forecasts what the water quality is going to be like today, rather than testing samples and telling people what it was like three days ago. People can now go online and check not only the water quality but also the sea conditions including tides and safety risks at 84 beaches and eight freshwater locations region wide. It's a joint initiative between Auckland Council, Watercare, Surf Lifesaving and the Auckland Regional Public Health Service.
2 What are Auckland's worst beaches for water quality?
We recommend no swimming for the long term at Cox's Bay and Meola Reef. In the Manukau Harbour, Green Bay, French Bay, Titirangi, Laingholm and Fosters Bay are unsafe; also the lagoons at Piha, Karekare and Bethells/Te Henga due to the high density of old septic tank systems. City beaches like St Marys Bay become unsafe as soon as it rains heavily and wastewater overflows.
3 How do we fix the water quality at beaches?
Watercare is about to build a huge stormwater tunnel from Mangere to Western Springs called the central interceptor. That will be the backbone needed to upgrade the whole wastewater system. It's a major project almost on the scale of the Waterview Tunnel and will be paid for through your water rates. It's out for tender now and will take about seven years to build.
4 Mayor Phil Goff has proposed a specific rate for water quality. What will that pay for?
Auckland Council is responsible for wastewater systems at the surface level. The solution will be different on every street. We'll put stormwater pipes into streets that don't have them. In some streets we'll separate the stormwater and wastewater pipes house by house, which will be very time consuming because you have to be really sensitive going into people's houses to work on their plumbing. In some areas we'll treat the stormwater at the surface like the Wynyard Quarter rain gardens, which capture contaminated sediment from vehicles. If the targeted rate is accepted by the people of Auckland it will take a full decade of effort.
5 What feedback have you had?
Water quality is one of Auckland's biggest and most long-standing issues and the public are telling us loud and clear that we must raise the bar. It seems people are starting to value water much, much more. For the first time in my career we've seen people march for water. I hope lots of people make a submission on the targeted water rate when the council's Long Term Plan goes out to consultation next month and in March.
6 What was your childhood growing up in Hamilton like?
I went to Hamilton Boys High and sometimes on hot days we'd sneak out and swim in the Waikato River. I remember as a kid seeing an oil drum floating past and being incensed that someone would pollute my playground.
7 Your father, Luk Chin, is a renowned horse breeder and trainer. How did he get into that?
Dad's second-generation Chinese from central Otago goldmining and market gardening stock. When he inherited a mare from his father, he bought a small property at Tamahere with a horse track and started training. He got his first win and starting breeding a line off that mare. Since then he's bred, trained and driven over a hundred winners which is amazing for an amateur. Mum does a huge amount of the work. She's from a stock farm in the Australian outback. They met when Dad was doing a locum there. He's also an anaesthetist — a complete workaholic. He lives off four hours' sleep.
8 Did your Dad want you to become a doctor too?
Yes. When I was 18 he took my 17-year-old brother and me to watch some surgery: a heart bypass and a hip replacement. Growing up on a farm we'd seen blood and guts but nothing prepares you for that. The hip replacement was the worst. It was like carpentry with all those tools banging and hacking. It put us both right off. I decided to study environmental engineering at Massey because I thought it would sound good with the girls. I didn't realise it was about sewage treatment till the fourth year.
9 You spent six years in wastewater work in Bristol and Edinburgh. How does New Zealand compare?
One thing I learned was how incredibly hard New Zealanders work. I came back thinking it would be more laid back and I'd get some work-life balance, but no. Working in the UK also made me appreciate how agile and fast we do things here. At a conference in the US recently I told the story of Auckland's Super City amalgamation. They were gobsmacked by what we'd done, rewriting the entire planning rulebook and all the engineering standards for the city the size of the San Francisco Bay area in just six years.
10 You live on a lifestyle block in Hunua. How's your commute?
Dire, but that's the tradeoff, right? It's funny because my wife's a transport planner. I drive in at 5am to miss the traffic but the drive home's an hour twenty. As soon as I go through the Hunua Gorge it's like a mental switch to start relaxation. I had fantasies of being truly sustainable but the reality of how hard that actually is has sunk in. Most of the land's bush. I have a network of bait stations to catch possums. I'd love to see the native trees come back and start a wetland.
11 Do you have any farm animals?
A few. I've taught myself how to do shearing out of a book. Every year we get a piglet for my son to take to ag day at school. Once piglets get big they stop being cute — then they're lovely bacon. My parents brought us up like that. Most of our pets would end up in sausages. We had to help do the butchering. If you do the killing quickly it's all over in an instant — much more humane than putting them on a truck to the works.
12 What was your most hair-raising moment on the job?
A job where we had to drive a tunnel under an old brick sewer that had sunk in the middle and ended up being right in our path. In typical Kiwi fashion, competing contractors mucked in to find a solution. One guy had some leftover polythene pipe sections and working into the night we cobbled together a workaround. It wasn't pretty but it did the job.