Westport residents 'embarrassed' by town's water woes

Residents arrive to Westport's water crisis meeting at NBS Theatre on Wednesday evening.

Residents arrive to Westport's water crisis meeting at NBS Theatre on Wednesday evening.

Concerned residents of a town on the South Island's West Coast have probed authorities for answers about their water crisis at a public meeting.

Westport and Carters Beach residents have been put on essential-use only water restrictions, meaning they are only allowed to use water for drinking, cooking and sanitation purposes.

The town's three water reservoirs sat at 46 per cent capacity by Wednesday. Residents were told that would last six days based on average consumption if the alternate supply pump stopped working.

A crowd of almost 200 attended the meeting with the Buller District Council in Westport on Wednesday.

A crowd of almost 200 attended the meeting with the Buller District Council in Westport on Wednesday.

Almost 200 people turned out for the public meeting in Westport on Wednesday evening and were told of the Buller District Council's plan to stop the town's reservoirs from running dry.

Westport fire brigade has back-up plan should town run dry as residents meet about water crisis 
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* Burst valve on Westport water line leaves town without water for 6 hours 
Town in one of NZ's wettest areas may run out of water in less than a fortnight

Residents questioned Mayor Garry Howard and council assets and infrastructure manager Mike Duff about short-term problems such as storage capacity, alternative pumps, water leaks and emergency procedures. 

Allan Donaldson questions the panel.

Allan Donaldson questions the panel.

Duff said the council's immediate focus was on doing "everything possible" to avoid running out of water.

A supplementary supply at Ballarat Creek, which pumps 20 litres of water per second, was now operating and the council had ordered four 30,000 litre water tanks.

Duff said more tanks could be brought in. Tank locations were yet to be decided.

Buller District Council assets and infrastructure manager Mike Duff, left, makes his presentation before question time.

Buller District Council assets and infrastructure manager Mike Duff, left, makes his presentation before question time.

"It may extend to storage for key places . . . schools, health care," he said.

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One resident asked when the raw water reservoirs were last cleaned out and suggested using an excavator to clean them to stretch their capacity.

Duff said the suggestion "makes perfect sense".

A diagram of the water supply system for Westport and Carters Beach urban areas.

A diagram of the water supply system for Westport and Carters Beach urban areas.

"We're taking down all options."

The council had received offers of help from local businesses. Duff said the council was considering a duplicate alternative supply in the event of a pump failure.

Since water stopped running through tunnel No 1 late last year, following a second major collapse, an alternate supply costing $20,000 a month had been used. 

"It's an issue now because we aren't getting that supply to the ponds," Duff said.

"We really need to boost our supply capacity for the peak season."

The council was asked why the tunnel was not stabilised earlier.

Repair prices were given to the council in March last year, about eight months before the second collapse.

"[There was] not enough detail in cost estimates, timeframe and not enough on risk," Duff said.

A feasibility study into pipe-jacking the tunnel was received earlier this year, revealing the cost of the work had risen from the estimated $1.9 million to almost $5m.

A report on mid-term fixes, lasting between three and six years, is expected to be presented at the council's October meeting.

Long-term alternative supply options that would last up to 100 years are expected later this year.

"We haven't committed yet to reinstating the tunnel," Duff said.


Some of the crowd were angered by a lack of communication from the council when a burst valve left Westport without water for six hours on Monday.

The outage caused cafes to close and schools to consider whether to send children home.

A home care nurse said it left her vulnerable, elderly patients panicking.

"We will do much better, we have to," Duff said.

Paul Reynolds said his confidence in the people in charge was suffering. "What mistakes do you acknowledge," he asked.

Some commentators, born and bred in Westport, said they were "embarrassed" to say they were from the town because of the crisis.

A man spoke about his experience with the Pike River Mine disaster and urged the council to be wary of being taken advantage of by "rogue people".

"Obviously we're desperate [but] be selective in your decision," he said.

 - Stuff


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