Metro NZ

Unswimmable Auckland

In the evening, the Newmarket Stream smells like shit. Not the whole length of it, but if you wander through the gully down by Newmarket Park and trace the winding track to the overflow point at what is appropriately known as Hells Gate, there are moments when the scent on the breeze is unmistakably that of human shit. And, unfortunately for Stephen Morse, his Remuera home is often directly upwind.

The smell is the worst on a weekday morning, when everyone is shitting and showering in unison before heading off to work. The second-worst time is when he arrives home, just before dinner. “It makes me sick to my stomach,” he says. Morse is worried it’s caused his home, which he bought in 1999, to lose value. He wants a halt on any new developments in the area until the situation is brought under control. (When it’s suggested this might be difficult due to Auckland’s housing crisis, he disputes such a thing exists.)

Walking along the banks of the stream, Morse points to bits of crepey rubbish wound like papier mâché around low-hanging branches above the water and once again expresses disgust. It’s toilet paper, he claims — proof the sewer pipes overflow too often and too high. It’s hard to tell from the track whether it really is toilet paper, but there’s no denying it looks bad.

Like much of central Auckland, Newmarket has a partially combined stormwater and wastewater (sewage) network, so there are huge swathes of the city where the pipes built to take the water from our toilets and showers are the same ones that rainwater flows into. The pipes are supposed to carry their load south to the Māngere Wastewater Treatment Plant, but when it rains, many of them overflow (as they’re designed to do) to designated spill points, and all that churned-up, shitty water is discharged into our creeks and streams, onto our beaches, and into our two harbours.

This happened on Christmas Day 2018. Just before

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