Wellington's water pipe woes may be sign of bigger issue

Another week and yet another water pipe burst in Wellington. But is the dodgy infrastructure just a problem in the country’s capital?

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Water infrastructure throughout New Zealand is in varying states of decay, with a shortage in workers able to fix it. Source: Q+A

Wellington is quickly earning a reputation for its water woes.

Earlier in the year during a spate of bursts, the water features were even given a name – the Wellington Geyser Festival.

The latest cluster of infrastructure problems began at the beginning of last year, with a corroded sewerage pipe in Willis Street. It kicked up a stink that disrupted local businesses for months.

It’s old, compact, and under-invested with much of its ageing pipe network in reclaimed land that’s had a battering by earthquakes.

Mayor Andy Foster defended their work, saying they’ve been constantly working to improve the capital’s water infrastructure.

“The issue was that not all of that money was going into renewals but what we did do is invest in things like sewage treatment plants and pump stations.”

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This time, a wall of water roughly 10 metres high splashed down on a residential street. Source: 1 NEWS

In the hills above the capital, a $68 million reservoir is being built, pumping drinking water down from the Hutt Valley.

If those pipes were damaged by an earthquake at all, the reservoir would act as a back-up supply.

Those projects and all of Wellingtons pipe repairs are hitting the pockets of its ratepayers, as it's estimated to drive costs up by 13 per cent in the first year.

But they’re not the only council with rate hikes or water issues as many grapple with drinking water quality woes.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) says there are several areas of the country where water infrastructure is in decay.

“If you look at the whole of New Zealand from the Far North to the Deep South, the various councils’ infrastructure are in various states of repair,” said LGNZ Head, Stuart Crosby.

“Across the country it’s getting harder to provide that high level of infrastructure.”

Lack of expertise and a declining workforce has been once of the reasons cited for the lag in water repairs.

Crosby predicts the country will need to outsource its workers if the country plans on keeping up.

But is a shortage in workers really the reason that Wellington is delayed in assessing 450km of critical pipes?

If you were to stretch them all out, that distance would take you from the capital all the way to Tokoroa – and only 10km of the repairs are complete.