Fifty complaints a day about Wellington's leaky water pipes

MONIQUE FORD/STUFF
A burst pipe on Majoribanks St, Mt Victoria, Wellington, spraying water into the air after a contractor severed a pipe in March.

More than 50 complaints are being made daily as Wellington’s ageing pipes spring new leaks at an accelerated rate.

One leak, on Tinakori Rd, near the Prime Minister’s official Thorndon residence, is Wellington’s longest-running leak after being first reported in September 2020, Wellington Water data shows. But spokesman Alex van Paassen​ warned there may be longer running leaks that did not show up in the data search.

The leak, on Tinakori Rd near the Prime Minister’s official Thorndon residence, is currently Wellington’s longest-running leak after being first reported in September 2020.
ROSA WOODS
The leak, on Tinakori Rd near the Prime Minister’s official Thorndon residence, is currently Wellington’s longest-running leak after being first reported in September 2020.

“There are a variety of reasons for extremely long run leaks,” van Paassen said.

“Sometimes they get fixed but other nearby leaks are still going; sometimes the fix doesn’t work, or a new leak pops up at the same place; sometimes they’re private – private leaks can get into the neighbours at war territory.”

In Wellington city alone, monthly complaints about leaks had risen from 1011 in July 2020 to 1575 – or an average of 51 each day – in March 2021.

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In recent years there have been a series of high-profile and disruptive failures of Wellington’s pipes. A presentation to Wellington City councillors in late-2020 showed more than half of the city's pipes needed replacing in the coming three decades and about $578 million was needed in the coming decade to clear a backlog of issues.

Sonya Bissmire, with children Freddie Child, 11, and Toby Child, 8, make their way through the “non-urgent” Cleveland St leak in Brooklyn.
MONIQUE FORD/Stuff
Sonya Bissmire, with children Freddie Child, 11, and Toby Child, 8, make their way through the “non-urgent” Cleveland St leak in Brooklyn.

Van Paassen said Wellington’s ageing pipes were the main cause for the spike in problems but issues with hiring skilled staff, and a surge in reported leaks, were why it was falling behind on fixes. It was fixing 300 leaks each week but receiving about 350 complaints.

“This is largely because of the increase in work volume that we are seeing. The more work there is to do, the more resources we need to apply to get that work done.”

Wellington Water was also amid a “severe” shortage of skilled and experienced staff, and had an ageing workforce, van Paassen said.

A long-running leak on Ohiro Rd, Brooklyn
MONIQUE FORD/Stuff
A long-running leak on Ohiro Rd, Brooklyn

“This has resulted in a work backlog, which means it’s taking longer to resolve jobs. The backlog is mainly with non-urgent work, as urgent jobs get the highest attention.

Brooklyn School road control coordinator Sonya Bissmire​ recently found out how hard it is to get even dangerous leaks fixed after a long-runningleak turned into a gush – it had been running for so long slime had formed.

Children going to Brooklyn School, or the elderly going to a bus, had little option but to gingerly step through the Cleveland St leak.

She contacted Wellington Water. “The fault has a lower priority rating so may be some weeks from being fixed”, the reply.

It was only after she contacted Wellington City councillor Fleur Fitzsimons, who then called Wellington Water chief executive Colin Crampton, that the job was classified as urgent and fixed late last week.

Bissmire posted on a local Facebook group asking if people knew of other leaks in the suburb and responses piled in.

Wellington City councillor Fleur Fitzsimons says the situation is getting out of control, calling the leaks “a sad joke”.
ROSA WOODS
Wellington City councillor Fleur Fitzsimons says the situation is getting out of control, calling the leaks “a sad joke”.

Fitzsimons said Wellington’s leaks were out of control and were becoming a “sad joke”.

“We are now a city of water activists with residents reporting leaks all over the city.

“Water is an emotive issue. All residents want is core infrastructure that works.

“But residents reporting leaks is not enough, we need to see serious, dedicated work by Wellington Water to urgently fix leaks and save water.”