Is the Tuki Tuki is too polluted to swim in?

YES says the Hawke’s Bay Environmental Water Group, led by Bill Dodds & Dave Renouf. And after spending hours examining their case, BayBuzz agrees.

The main points:

  1. Regular monitoring of average daily water flows consistently shows pollutant levels that violate Regional Council (HBRC) guidelines (for example, faecal coliform levels average more than 2-3 times higher than the guideline). Given what he knows, Dodds says: “I don’t let my grandson or nephews swim in the river any more.”
  2. The main culprits are discharges from inadequate community sewage treatment systems in Waipukurau and Waipawa, consisting about equally of household waste water and trade waste (meatworks, stock truck cleaning, light industry, etc).
  3. This is a persistent problem, not the rare “weather event” caused by heavy rainfall.
  4. The Central HB District, operator of the treatment facilities, has not been required to clean up its act.
  5. Such enforcement is the responsibility of the HBRC, who instead of requiring action, has given CHB until 2014 to satisfy the existing guidelines, which themselves are not stringent enough. Says Renouf: “If a dairy farmer were in violation, he’d be prosecuted tomorrow.” Adds Dodds: “An appropriate treatment facility could be built in thirty months.”

In an email sent to each candidate campaigning for a seat on the HBRC, BayBuzz asked: “When will the HBRC get off its arse and do something about upstreamers fouling up the Tuki Tuki?”

So far, eight candidates, only one of them an incumbent, have responded. Here are their comments, published verbatim.

Incumbent Councillor Ewan McGregor

I take offence to the comment “when will the HBRC get off its arse and do something about upstreamers fouling up the Tuki Tuki?”

Firstly, I am the The HBRC Hearings Committee and in this term we considered the application by the CHBDC for discharges of waste water from their oxidation ponds. (We sat on our arses for a week listening to submitters and objectors!) This was a most rigorous exercise and considerable disciplines were imposed within the standards of affordability and reality. Remember that the fact is that there are maybe 4000 people in CHB who reside in urban areas connected to community waste water systems, and they go to the toilet every day, as normally we all do. It’s got to go somewhere.

Secondly, since 1953 a section of the Tukituki midway between the Tamumu and Patangata bridges has been my playground. While memory can be a fallible measure I can say that the river in my experience is far cleaner today than it was in my childhood and youth – when raw sewage from Waipukurau and Waipawa was emptied untreated into the rivers upstream. In the summer in those days the river was chocked with slime.

The river is not perfect, and it never now will be, but whenever I am there (except when it is in high flood) I celebrate its beauty and appreciate my good fortune in having property alongside it.

Mr. McGregor was first in, so we shared his reply with all other candidates. Their replies follow.

Liz Remmerswaal

I think the social climate is changing on the issue of acceptable levels of pollution of our rivers, and more can and should be done about it.

It is my opinion that standards need to be raised as high as possible.

Maybe there is no longer raw sewage being discharged constantly into the Tuki Tuki, but is that good enough?

It is a fact that the CHB oxidation ponds are long out of date and should be fixed, and the HBRC does have the resource and the teeth to insist on this.

The Tuki Tuki is an iconic river of Hawke’s Bay, adjacent to Te Mata Peak and leading wineries, and I think the public should demand to be able to swim in it without risk to their health. The HBRC does have a policy of helping farmers to plant trees adjacent to the rivers, and this will cut down on pollution from effluent and nitrates also.

So far the HBRC has spent $70,000 of our money fighting over this issue in the Environment Court – our money – wouldn’t that money be better spent actually sorting the problem?

Des Ratima:

While I am sure that the HBRC followed the process of consultation, it is obvious to me from Ewan’s reply that ‘the standards of affordability and reality’ govern the decision about what is best for the river.

I believe that the paramount factor missing from the decision formula is that environmental standard. His comparison with the past picture of the rivers quality alongside today’s picture serves to remind us all that we can do better, and I wonder how his children will judge their river today against their river tomorrow. After all this is what should be the motivation for all our decisions.

Sewage disposal is a reality. The current system of disposal is the affordability. However science and business should be encouraged to answer the question: is this the best we can offer tomorrow’s children? Just like wind power generation would never be considered until economics forced a scientific and commercial answer then we went in pursuit of a less aggressive form of energy generation.

Mark Devon:

Thank you for forwarding the comment on. I believe that the key words in the current position are affordability and reality.

My position, as I am led to believe by the majority of people who really care for their waterways is that no discharge should be the goal. Every move made, every hour spent talking or listening and every dollar spent should be towards that goal.

Properly researched landbased treatment is preferable.

More can be done and more should be done to reduce waterways pollution. In my opinion “It’s got to go somewhere” does not address issue.

The Region needs to protect these assets, not accept that they will never now be perfect.

Tim Gilbertson

The first thing thing the HBRC needs to do to improve water quality in the Tukituki and Waipawa Rivers is to help fund new waste water systems for Waipukurau and Waipawa. HBRC has $380 million in assets including $18 million in cash ,and $8 million invested in property in Wellington. In addition,HBRC plans to sell $1.3 million worth of leasehold property in Napier this year and is looking to buy $3 million worth of commercial property in HB (see HBRC 2007 /2008 Annual Plan )

The question you need to ask is this : Is the HBRC’s job to protect the environment and put money in to long term future benefits for the entire region ? Or is its role to be a commercial property owner?

I suggest that as the the ultimate owners of all that money , we in CHB and no doubt those living downstream on the Tukituki in Hastings DC would prefer state of the art waste water systems, clean rivers and lower rates, rather than be the proud owners of a shiny big building somewhere in Napier or Hastings,especially when HBRC already own lots of shiny buildings in Wellington and Napier.

The second thing HBRC needs to do is to persuade or force farmers to fence cattle out of all major streams creeks and rivers to lower the nitrogen loadings on the all the catchments. However that is another story.

Kevin Trerise:

General Comment: There is a problem with the water quality of the Tukituki and this has been known for some time. Last summer the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council had part of their website dedicated to whether it was safe to swim, not only in the Tuki but other waterways for which it is responsible.

The discharges allowed by Regional Councils own Resource Management Plan are regularly being exceeded and Council has an obligation and legal requirement to rectify these. And to give priority to working cooperatively with CHBDC, and I believe central government has a place as well, to find a resolution.

Comment to Ewan’s first point: (We sat on our arses for a week listening to submitters and objectors!) As there are only submitters to these processes, and they submit in good faith that their voice will be heard and acted on, I would like to know what changes were made as a result of the week he spent listening to submitters and objectors. Also, which submissions he heard he agreed with, what action he took to speak and support the submitter to effect some change, and what was the result of his efforts if indeed he made any?

Comment to Ewan’s second point: I myself am a fisherman (not a particularly good one I might add) and in that community many people I know no longer fish below the Waipukurau and Waipawa sewage outlets, because of the discharges. Many, as do I, now only fish above Waipukurau. I too Love the Tukituki and find it disappointing that the regulatory authority is taking little action to address this matter.

The Tukituki is being treated as an open sewer drain by officials. Moana Jackson, spoke at Sustaining Hawke’s Bay Trust’s “Sustainability Speaker Series” recently, and referred to the rivers as being the veins and arteries of our land bodies. It is sad and disrespectful that sewage is being pumped into our veins in this way.

And we haven’t discussed the impact of the likely increased demand for agricultural draw-off nor the predicted lower flows into the headlands from the impact of climate change.

Alastair Bramley:

No, I don’t think the Tukituki is anywhere near as clean as it can be. I think we still have a long way to go with cleaning up the Tukituki, and believe this needs to be a priority for the region. This is a special river that helps to define Hawke’s Bay and it is not in great shape. The discharge of partially treated effluent into the Tuki is a prehistoric practice that needs to be outlawed. Sure that will cost, but we need to start valuing the Tuki as a special place, renowned for it’s excellent fly fishing and recreational values – not a conduit for our pollutants!

I too frequent the Tuki in the summer with the family and we like nothing better than to dash down to river after work for a picnic tea on a hot Hawke’s Bay late afternoon. However, our experience is frequently marred by a large piece of slime clinging to the kids boogie board or looking at the low flow wondering what is the concentration of nasties while contemplating a dip. To my mind we need to do better, much better! We need to move to more intensive treatment and land based disposal methods for those who live along the banks of the Tuki.

And even a comment from a HDC contender, Bruce Bissett:

The Tukituki may be cleaner than when McGregor was a lad, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to swim in. Council notices warning of the dangers are evidence enough of that! The “reality” is that CHBDC and HDC and HBRC all sat on their hands (I’m too polite to say the other) for 10 years AFTER the Health Ministry told them to clean up their smelly act, and then (on or past deadline) did the minimum to be seen to be complying. Exactly how is that something to proud of? As for “affordability”, did the RC figure in eg the cost to public health or potential damage to tourism in their estimates? Decisions made on engineering-only guidelines are far too simplistic to be robust – and fail the test for protecting the wellbeing of the community.


Am I wrong, or does Mr. McGregor seem to be the odd man out on this issue?! To his credit, at least he takes a position “on the record” … something NO OTHER INCUMBENT HBRC COUNCILLOR — all parties to the inaction — seems prepared to do. Are they telling the voters, “Take your effluent and stuff it!?”

As the campaign unfolds, we urge our readers to get each and every HBRC candidate to address the Tuki Tuki issue. How they respond will be a good litmus test of just how committed they are to protecting the natural assets of Hawke’s Bay (to say nothing of the public’s health in this case).

And what does the Hawke’s Bay Environmental Water Group propose?

They say candidates for the HBRC should commit, if elected, to:

1. Enforce the existing guidelines, as they are empowered to do by the Resource Management Act.

2. Require immediate construction of suitable treatment facilities, reducing by about five years the public’s wait for cleaner, safer water.

3. Support this solution financially with HBRC funds.

4. Review the adequacy of existing guideline levels for permissable pollutants.


Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. I walked out from the car park at Clifton to the no1 camping ground last weekend and was sadded to see the sea is now erodding the new road that was put in a couple of years ago. I would say after this winter if we have some big swells, it will be the end of this road and camping ground a big asset to the Bay,how come the HBRC HAVE MILLIONS to spend on building dams and cannot put a retaining wall up to save this road,and do a bit of work to save this camping ground seems sad

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.