One of Auckland's most popular beaches is undergoing a major clean-up after 26 problems were found affecting its waters last summer.
Takapuna Beach's woes largely arose because it has 12 stormwater outfalls on the beach – unique in Auckland – which are difficult to move anywhere else.
Issues range from bird faeces being washed into waters close to the shore where children play, tree roots blocking pipes, to residents pouring cooking fat and throwing wet wipes down their drains.
Broken pipes were found where the public toilets on the beachfront connect to the wastewater network. The toilets were closed for repairs – and are back in action now though a new $1.1m facility is planned for next year. Construction is scheduled to begin in October and will take up to six months.
Richard Hills, councillor for the North Shore ward, says the new facility will be bigger and cleaner, and will open the bottom of the beach reserve to cope with increasing demand.
Hills says the number of issues is comparable to other places with a drainage network of its age and it's the first time there's been a "holistic investigation" into how they contribute to overall water quality.
The Safe Networks programme at Takapuna has cost $112,800 so far and it's estimated another $225,000 will be spent. It has involved a review of public and private drainage plans; manhole inspections; CCTV of public stormwater and wastewater pipes; flushing and root removal in selected wastewater pipes; dye testing of the wastewater network and some private connections; visual inspections, smoke testing, and follow up investigations; and grease trap inspections with Watercare's trade waste team, part-funded through Auckland's Water Quality Targeted Rate.
But it's only part of major improvements in the area. The $12m Hurstmere Rd upgrade promises substantial benefits to stormwater treatment. All water will be filtered through rain gardens – an enormous improvement as stormwater now drains to the beach.
Hills warns Takapuna's issues are not a short-term problem with a quick fix: "This is a long term, complex, multi-faceted issue. Each of the problems we have found are, on their own, relatively minor. They are a lot of smaller issues that together add up to a lot.
"Testing has shown that, particularly in wet weather, there is a significant 'first flush' of bird faeces through the pipes, not to mention heavy metals and microplastics from vehicles.
But the public can play its part. Hills urges beachgoers to check Safeswim, particularly after heavy rain, before swimming this summer.
Businesses and householders should also be aware of what they are pouring down drains after significant issues last summer when people had poured fats and detergents into stormwater drains.
"We would also ask that people wash their cars on the grass rather than their driveway as the grass acts as a natural filter to catch heavy metals and microplastics from tyres rather than sending them through our stormwater pipes and out to the sea."
Hills says wet wipes are a huge problem. "There is no such thing as a flushable wipe. We ask that people stop flushing wipes down the toilet. They do not break down in time and catch on roots and other things in the pipes. They gather up and cause blockages which overflow into our streams and stormwater systems and end up at our beaches."
For the councillor, the Takapuna Beach clean-up is personal: "I am glad there is such collaborative work getting done as we are really passionate about our beach and improving the water quality.
"It is important the public can continue to use this space like we always have. I spent most of my summers on Takapuna Beach as a child and enjoyed many swims there last summer, so this is personal for me as well as our community."