Forget clean and green - this Wellington stream is brown, bubbly and litter-strewn
As Jane Poata walks beside Wellington's Owhiro Stream, the toxic stench rekindles childhood memories of holidaying beside New Zealand's most-contaminated site.
It is a metallic smell she described as ammonia and lime, rising from the brown and bubbly stream, a tributary of which passes through T&T Landfills before running behind a primary school and homes then into Taputeranga Marine Reserve off the capital's south coast.
Greater Wellington Regional Council has confirmed the contamination came from the T&T Landfills, which was in the process of diverting the tributary to Owhiro Stream and creating a filtering wetland so it no longer picked up debris and contaminants when flood water rushed through.
After complaints were received this week, the council tested the water in Owhiro Stream.
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Al Cross, the council's environment regulatory manager, said while the results were still a fortnight away, it was likely a mixture of ammonia, magnesium, and iron in the water.
"Any contaminant can be toxic and harmful to the stream ecology and people coming into contact, but it depends on the levels we find."
The landfill was fined following a similar incident in November. Cross said further fines had not been ruled out but the council was more focused now on fixing the problem.
It was not clear when the work would be completed, but T&T was co-operating with the council to fix the problem, he said.
T&T Landfills manager Sophie Gray said all information was available on the council's website. When asked when the drainage problems would be fixed, she said it was a matter between "me and the council" before hanging up.
Poata, an Owhiro Bay resident, said the stream rose dramatically during last week's floods caused by ex-tropical cyclone Debbie, before easing back. Immediately after the flood, it ran clear before turning a deep brown with foamy residue.
"Whatever they are dumping up there – it is probably just building site stuff – it leaches out and you see this unnatural colour in the water."
On Tuesday, the river banks were strewn with hundreds of plastic bags, polystyrene, washing machine parts, a child's plastic chair, and a large, dead eel.
Poata said the smell was a reminder of her childhood holidays near the former Fruitgrowers' Chemical Company in Mapua, at the top of the South Island, which was in the late 1990s deemed New Zealand's most contaminated site before a $12 million clean-up operation that ended in 2007.
Friends of Owhiro Stream co-ordinator Martin Payne said the volunteer organisation had been working for 13 years to restore the stream and incidents like this made it seem "in a way meaningless".
"We would like to see Greater Wellington Regional Council and Wellington City Council take much more decisive action," he said.
The council describes T&T landfill as a construction and demolition landfill in the Owhiro Stream catchment, and says it is just one of three landfills in the catchment, along with Wellington City Council's Southern Landfill and the C&D Landfill.
The latest discharge was similar to another from the landfill in November and December last year, GWRC's website says.
An earlier council investigation found a slump in water quality and "significant adverse effects" on invertebrates.
Mike Joy, a senior lecturer in environmental science and ecology at Massey University, then said the ammonia that was wiping out invertebrates was guaranteed to be killing fish as well.