Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Auckland's Storm Water Menace

In February 2012, following a week of severe thunderstorms in Auckland and associated reports of flash flooding, damaged properties and storm water systems not being able to cope with the deluges, I decided to pen an article for this blog. I penned it in the hope that someone would have the bravery to stand up on behalf of the Auckland Council and say, "we stuffed up and we will take responsibility for the repairs. We will take all appropriate steps to mitigate the hazard".

Perhaps my faith was misplaced. Now the Auckland Council has been found severely wanting for lack of planning to replace hundreds of kilometres of old storm water pipes, a good portion of which is corrugated iron. This problem, which has been brewing for decades, is not a new one. New or not, over the next few years - millions of dollars will have to be spent upgrading the key pipes in the network. Auckland has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to fix its transport system and getting the Britomart working properly. If it can invest that much so readily on railway and roads, then it can certainly spend more on the functionality of the storm water system.

In Christchurch when the then Mayor, Garry Moore suggested increasing the size of the city to 500,000 people, one of the many criticisms of his idea included sewerage and storm water pipe networks needing a thorough over haul. It was said that some of the piping was over 100 years old and struggled already to carry the volumes that were forced through it. Seismic activity on 04 September 2010, 22 February 2011, 13 June 2011 and 23 December 2012 all meant that these two vitally important networks are now getting their due overhaul.

But should it have needed an earthquake to make the Christchurch City Council wake up to its priorities? Of course not, though that is what it took.

This is an issue that should seriously bug Auckland. As a keen observer of meteorology and in particular meso-cyclonic systems such as thunderstorms, it bugs me that the city does not seem to have understood that every summer there is a high risk of at least one severe thunderstorm event passing through. These events typically bring very heavy rain at rates that might be anywhere between 25-50mm/hr. If they are slow moving systems that have popped up because of convection, one might stick around for an hour or more, which is plenty of time to cause some serious flooding. It will happen again. It might not be a severe thunderstorm either. It might be a low pressure system from the Tasman that stalls over the Auckland area and spends a day dumping its load on the city. However the next heavy rainfall event comes, the results will be similar if nothing is done.

Imagine coming home after a day at work, to find your home carpeted in mud. You go to your neighbours and find them sifting through their belongings, turfing most of them into a skip because they are no longer usable. Later that day you get a knock on the door. It's an engineer from the Council storm water unit. He has come to see how badly damaged your property is. He tells you that an elderly pipe ruptured under an influx of water it was never designed for. He further says that dozens of properties have been affected like yours.

If I were an Aucklander, who I vote for in 2013 might depend entirely on how they approach this issue - especially if a severe thunderstorm or other high intensity rainfall event floods my property so badly that it is uninhabitable.