In the middle of a global pandemic a group of technicians have left their families, flown across the world and put their own health at risk, all to fix two sludge pipes that burst in Wellington earlier this year.

The two high-pressure pipes running underneath Mt Albert failed in January, prompting a 24/7 trucking operation to transport sludge from the Moa Point Treatment plant to the Southern Landfill.

The repair is no easy job, and specially designed sleeves to form a new lining in the pipes will be the largest-scale implementation of such technology in Australasia.

The five technicians who are tasked with the mission have arrived in New Zealand after securing special permission to enter the country. They were brought over from Frankfurt on the return leg of a German-government sponsored repatriation flight.


The team are spending 14 days in quarantine in Auckland and will then be driven to Wellington to start work early next month.

Wellington Water chief executive Colin Crampton said the technicians have formed their own bubble in an Auckland hotel where they have the use of a conference room, which they have set up as a work space.

"That has allowed them to prepare for the task ahead, reviewing CCTV footage of the pipe and the bursts and the like, so they're pretty happy really. They are looking forward to getting down to Wellington and getting to work."

At a Wellington City Council meeting on Thursday, Three Waters portfolio leader councillor Sean Rush told his colleagues projects like this were not without risk.

"Having done a lot of work in the engineering space, they very rarely go to plan. At the best of times when you need to do a quick work-around you can haul in people to do that to maybe get yourself back on track, but we won't have that opportunity on this occasion."

Councillor Sean Rush has acknowledged the sacrifice the technicians are making by travelling to New Zealand. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Councillor Sean Rush has acknowledged the sacrifice the technicians are making by travelling to New Zealand. Photo / Mark Mitchell

It's hoped the first pipe will be repaired and operational by mid-May and the technicians are booked on a flight home in June.

A Wellington Water spokesman said if flight schedules changed before then, they will be re-booked on another flight and would stay in New Zealand in the interim.

Rush acknowledged the sacrifice the technicians were making.


"Have a bit of a think about what it means to fly half way around the world in the middle of a pandemic leaving your family and your friends, to go and fix someone else's wastewater system.

"It is a big ask, a really big ask, and on top of that we don't even know when we can get them back."

Wellington Water spent $12,000 on getting the technicians to New Zealand, but that is a fraction of the cost of the trucking operation which amounts to almost $100,000 a day.

Rush has previously raised the question of whether sludge could instead be pumped into Cook Strait to cut costs as the council faces a $70 million fiscal shortfall for the 2020/21 year due to Covid-19.

But that went down like a lead balloon with his colleagues and has since been thrown out.

Wellington Water major projects manager Stephen Wright said the burst pipes were encased in concrete on the floor of a 1.8km tunnel below Mt Albert.


"Once the burst section has been patched, they [the technicians] will insert the high-strength polymer liner, that has been custom-made in Germany, within each pipe. When connected and operating as designed, they should have a lifespan of well over 10 years.

"Despite the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, we've committed to getting this fixed as one of our critical projects for the region", he said. The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website