New Zealand’s dairy industry

New Zealand dairy industry

Environmental reports and main stream media are often critical of different aspects of the New Zealand dairy industry. Here I summarise them together in one graphic. View at higher resolution by clicking on the image below.

Graphic summary of the New Zealand’s dairy industries impacts.

References – resources for further reading on the impacts of New Zealand’s dairy industry.

Photo kickstarts stream restoration

I recently had a great experience with Waikato Regional Council (WRC) which showed the value of just letting council know whats happening.

I was driving past  270 Kuaotunu, Wharekaho in the Coromandel and saw cattle defecating in the stream. I was in a hurry but decided to take a quick photo and reported it a few days later. I got a great response from WRC. The land is owned by the crown, managed by Thames-Coromandel District Council (TCDC) and leased to a farmer. The stream is a priority one waterway given it’s proximity to the coastal marine area which cannot have stock access without a resource consent.

Staff discussed the issue and the farmer running cattle on the property will now remove cattle from the land. TCDC envisage releasing the tenure to the Department of Conservation who may review activities at the site and consider restoring it. What a great outcome! I am very impressed with all agencies involved.

Living with sewage

Like many Aucklanders I am sick of having my beach closed to swimming due to ‘stormwater overflows’ which is a nice way of saying ‘human poo has gone into the ocean’. Here is a graphic I made for the 2020 State of our Gulf report to explain how it happens.

Yesterday I found a manhole that had overflowed next to the Tāmaki Estuary with fragments of toilet tissue all over the public pathway. I logged the fault with Watercare (reference number of this is SR 4943060) and a contractor visited the site after dark. The verbal report I received to the public health hazard was very cavalier, I was told it would not happen again. I have asked for a written report.

UPDATE 25 Sept 2021: The Chair of the Tāmaki Estuary Protection Society has sent me this map which shows that Watercare do not consider the manhole a ‘significant overflow point’ for sewerage during heavy rain.

UPDATE 26 Sept 2021: Watercare have been very responsive, they would not give me a written report but confirmed that in the short-term there is nothing they can do to stop raw sewage from overflowing into the nature reserve / public path after heavy rain events. They said biohazards in Auckland were ‘a common problem during heavy rain’. I am appalled at their low hygiene standards. We will monitor the manhole and Watercare have offered to escalate the issue if it is ongoing.

UPDATE 28 Sept 2021: After another complaint Watercare have offered to fill holes and check for blockages Ref SR 4960390.

UPDATE 28 Oct 2021: The Watercare officer lied to me. New reference number: WEB1065983. Fault reference number SR 5172998.

A nearby manhole next to a children’s playground that also overflowed.

UPDATE 30 Oct 2021: I received a text message saying the fault has been resolved. I called to see what has been done. They explained they have added lime to to disinfect the grass, there is no blockage, and that it will probably happen again next time it rains. I can see why people dont report sewage overflows when nothing is done to fix them.

Auckland City has the terrible hygiene standards.

UPDATE 4 Nov 2021: The issue has been escalated by Councillor Josephine Bartley (it’s a good idea to loop your Councillor into difficult conversations with council staff). They have identified three actions which might address the issue. I have asked them to tell me:

  • When the pipe is relined
  • When the first flush event to clear blockages occurs
  • When any of the infrastructure upgrades come online

I have also asked that Council not approve any consents that would increase stormwater or wastewater pressure on the failing infrastructure until the issue is resolved.

UPDATE 21 Mar 2022: Still failing. It’s interesting how you can smell that the manholes have popped before you see them.

North of the footbridge near Fernwood Place Playground
South of the footbridge near Fernwood Place Playground
The reserve between Silverton Ave and the Estuary

UPDATE 5 April 2022: Watercare have replied with a list of actions.

Pipeline RelineThe pipe reline is currently under review, as more investigation is required to help us pull together a package of work in Wai O Taiki Bay to reduce infiltration of stormwater into the wastewater system (through pipe joints, cracks in manholes etc). This will take some time to put together and then implement (potentially a year).
Flushing eventWe have put this part of the network on a routine flushing programme which will allow the pipe to operate at maximum flow (by flushing out silts regularly as they build up fast due to low pipe grade). Last year showed a lot of silts in this line, which we have since cleared.
Other worksWe have done some small improvements to downstream manholes to allow flow to pass through easier.
Project worksThe work on Taniwha St is currently in progress and will all go live once our new wastewater pump station is commissioned. This is still several months away and most likely to be at the end of the year.

They are also looking at installing a sensor inside the manhole and wrote a very polite thank you email. I repeated my request to not increase pressure on the system and will continue to monitor these manholes.

Update 12 July 2022 (No change)

Fernwood Place Playground
Wai O Taiki Bay Nature Reserve
Treated with lime the next day

Update 27 January 2023 (No change)

I was not able to get down to the manholes during the last two rain events.

This attempt to glue the manhole down has failed.
No smell this time, but toilet paper visible at both manholes.

Update 1 May 2023 (No change)

I’m not reporting this event. Large areas of Auckland Councils stormwater network failed in recent storms and they will have bigger priorities for the near future.

Update 9 May 2023 (No change)

Interestingly the manhole next to this one also popped for the first time.
Yuck

Update 21 Jul 2023 (No change)

Leaking toilet paper in smaller rain events
Looks like Council have not restricted development and more intensive housing will put more strain on the system
Polystyrene escaping the demolition site

Nitrogen limits for New Zealand water

Nitrogen limits for drinking water

Over the last decade there has been a lot of media coverage on Nitrogen limits for New Zealand water. I have made this diagram to explain all the numbers from the perspective of a water drinking Aucklander (which I am).

Nitrogen limits for drinking water

References (Nitrate nitrogen mg/L)

eDNA

I have spent a fair bit of time thinking about how citizen scientists can measure the health of their local streams using Macroinvertebrate Community Index (WIMP & SHMAK) and the index of biotic integrity (IBI) for New Zealand fish. The great thing about using stream life to measure stream health is that the animals act as 24/7 sensors that measure any of the countless pollutants that harm life. The problem with it is that finding and more importantly identifying species involves disrupting them.

eDNA (environmental DNA) sampling solves this by measuring the presence of stream life base on the tiny fragments all life constantly erode into water. Wilderlab have set up a testing system with relatively cheap kits available for citizen scientists. I found it easy to use on my local stream (which is very degraded). I am really excited about this technology, especially as the price comes down and results are benchmarked against existing stream health Indices.

Feeding our plastic legacy

It’s nearly one week into the Covid 19 lockdown. Council were not able to retrieve dying and dead birds from the pond at Tahuna Torea. The birds have been dying from avian botulism which paralyse them (its a horrible way to go). I took a pied stilt to the vet but it did not make it and cleaned up other dead and dying geese and mallards.

While I was there I noticed a lot of trash that had become exposed, as the water was the lowest it’s been in at least 10 years. Going back to pick it up I found it was mostly bread bags taken to the pond to feed the birds. I understand the commonly known reasons for not feeding birds. But I had no idea how much plastic goes into the water as byproduct of the practice. Light can not penetrate the dark pond waters and the plastic doesn’t break down. Sediment settles on top and where ever I dug into the dried mud I found plastic.

I’ll spend a few more hours gathering it but I’ll never get it all. I’m sure other ponds are similar if not worse. As long as we keep selling bread in plastic, bird feeding will be contributing to our plastic legacy.

UPDATE: 5 April

After removing three black sacks of dead birds and soft plastics I was rewarded with seeing this secretive bird feeding right where I had been cleaning up 😀

Spotless Crake

UPDATE: 12 April

So far I have retrieved two geese, four mallards, one juvenile black-backed gull and four black sacks full of plastic, mostly bread bags.

Don’t buy a water storage solution from Bailey Tanks.

Bailey Tanks make their water storage tanks from plastic which comes into the business as small pellets. Since August 2017 I have seen these plastic pellets coming out of their business at 36 Ash Rd, Wiri and into the local stream where it flows into the Manuaku Harbour. I have been regularly reporting the pollution to Auckland Council who have been asking the business to clean up their act, they were fined $750 on the in May 2017 however the plastic keeps coming out.

Bailey Tanks stormwater outlet (August 2017)
You can see the small plastic pellets littering their yard from the street (9 Feb 2020 Council job number INR60232011).
Plastic pellets (nurdles) at stormwater pipe exiting the Bailey Tanks (9 May 2019 Council Job number #8260221120).

Today (22 February 2020) I thought I would go and see if the rain would increase the amount of plastic washing to the stream. Pallets were coming but I was horrified to see the surface of the water covered in a fine plastic powder which they also use to make their products. Council job number 8260232660.

I took a sample home to have a better look at these micro plastics close up.
This is the path the pollution takes from the stormwater outlet to Puhinui Creek and then the Manukau Harbour. Map constructed using data from Auckland Councils Geomaps service.

Industrial pollution is usually event based, where a business has accidentally spills something and creates a pollution incident. This kind of slow leak is much worse, I hate to think how much plastic this company has dumped into the Manukau Harbour where it poisons our wildlife.

Newsroom reporter Farah Hancock investigated the site after the February 2020 incident and reported on it.

UPDATE: 24 May 2020

A new pipe has been installed upstream and was flowing clear when I visited at 3pm today.
But the old pipe continues to leak plastic. It took 20 minutes to log the incident with Auckland Council (Job number 8100624496) during which time I counted 18 plastic pellets exiting the pipe. I said I would wait for the officer (to show them the pollution) but I got a text back saying they will not visit until tomorrow.

UPDATE 12 JUNE 2020
I followed up on the the job number above (8100624496) to find out that officers did not visit the site to investigate the incident. I requested a site visit with officers but they refused.

UPDATE 13 OCTOBER 2020

The site was the cleanest I had ever seen, the business is clearly trying to clean up their act which is great. (Just one plastic pellet sighted). It’s a shame that they just cant stop leaking plastic tho. Check out the tiny bits of plastic powder in this video. Council RM Incident 8620239074, INR60239074.

UPDATE 25 FEBRUARY 2024

First significant rain in weeks today. Checked 9am after it had been raining for about 45minutes. Very pleased to not see plastic in the water.