Wastewater education

What to and what not to flush

Over the last two years there has been an increase in community awareness and subsequent response to the number of wastewater overflows that have been occurring within the Waikato district.

A number of these overflows have occurred in Raglan and have resulted in the harbour being closed to both swimming and seafood collection.

But wastewater overflows aren’t limited to Raglan. Overflows happen across the district and in August 2016, Council received a report outlining initial responses to the level of overflows from the wastewater network and supported a continual improvement programme (CIP) approach to managing the overflow issues.

A review was carried out between September and November 2016 to determine what else could be done over the medium and long term to provide a sustainable improvement, recommendations from that review included

  • employing more specialist water and wastewater staff,
  • the purchase of standby generators,  
  • improved wastewater operational knowledge and control across the district,
  • a proactive network jetting and condition assessment programme,
  • and a district wide public education programme.

Council has a goal of reducing overflows as much as practicably possible but acknowledges that it is not possible to completely rule them out and need the community’s help.

Wastewater overflows are caused by:

  • Blockages caused by foreign objectives within the network or at pumping stations either in wet or dry weather
  • Inadequate capacity within the network, relative to the flow being transported – this is normally an issue in wet weather
  • Failure of key equipment (e.g. pumping stations) or power at key installations (e.g. pumping stations)

The effects or consequences of wastewater overflows are that:

  • They result in the pollution of waterway (streams, rivers and harbour)
  • Give rise to public health issues, if next to people or where they swim,
  • They cause a loss of utility for sanitary services for customers

Whilst the Council interventions will unboubtably lead to positive results, the community’s support and action will improve these results and for that reason the districts communities are being asked to do that bit through a public education programme.

As part of this public education work, material will be distributed to all public toilets in the district and all households will receive information letting them know what should and shouldn’t be put down the loo and kitchen sink. Council will have a presence at public events such as market days where we will share the message. Accommodation providers, real estate agents and plumbers will have access to information to circulate to their customers.

The wastewater education programme will then look to be embedded in schools around the district.

What we know so far

We know that people are putting non-flushable items such as rags, wet wipes, nappies and undies down the loo and fats, oil and grease down the kitchen sink. This in turn blocks the wastewater system and is the main cause of wastewater overflows (81 per cent in 2014-16) in our district. The remainder of overflows are due to network issues.

So we’re undertaking, among other things, a district-wide public education programme to alert the district to this problem.

Blocking materials

We find all sorts of blocking materials in our wastewater network. Some examples include:

  • Baby wipes
  • Band aids
  • Cigarette butts
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Clothes
  • Condoms
  • Cotton buds
  • Cotton wool
  • Dental floss
  • Face masks
  • Facial wipes
  • Bottom wipes
  • Fat, oil, grease
  • Food
  • Fruit labels
  • Goldfish
  • Hair
  • Kitty litter
  • Nappies
  • Nappy liners
  • Rags
  • Sanitary pads
  • Socks
  • Tampon applicators
  • Tampons
  • Tissues
  • Toilet roll tubes
  • Wet wipes

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Council improves assessment of wastewater pipes

06 September 2017

Waikato District Council’s knowledge of the state of its wastewater pipe network has been vastly improved following the first six months of its Wastewater Overflow Continual Improvement Programme.

About 45km of wastewater pipes have been cleaned and inspected via Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) camera in Raglan, Huntly, Ngaruawahia, Meremere and Te Kauwhata.

Council is using the CCTV data to assess the internal condition of the pipes and prioritise a programme of work to replace or repair pipes where the condition of them poses a risk of an overflow.

Intense cleaning has been required in 12km of the pipes because of significant deposits of silt, gravel, fat deposits, tree root damage and blockages.

A number of severely damaged pipes, caused by items like earthing rods or fence posts, in the network have been identified for immediate repair.

General Manager Service Delivery Tim Harty says the work done so far has shown Council that the Wastewater Overflow Continual Improvement Programme is incredibly important.

“The data received from CCTV inspections will give us a clearer picture of what needs to be done where, and allows us to prioritise any replacement or rehabilitation work

“This district-wide assessment into the condition of Council’s underground pipes is part of Council’s ongoing commitment to improving wastewater infrastructure so that we can minimise any wastewater overflows or leaks,” he says.

The public also has an important part to play in the objective of reducing wastewater spills in the district.

About 80% of wastewater overflows in the Waikato district from 2014-16 were caused by blockages.

The main causes of these blockages were foreign objects such as wipes, clothing, sanitary pads and nappies being flushed down toilets, and grease, oil and food scraps being poured down the kitchen sink.

Council has started to roll out a public education campaign that aims to inform the community that they should only flush toilet paper and dispose of grease in the dustbin.

Mr Harty says that if the public buy-in to messages contained in the education programme it’ll be a win-win situation for the council and the community.

“If the council and the public can work together to reduce the number of blockages in our wastewater network if will go a long way to achieve our goal of protecting our environment and ensuring our wastewater pipes are working more efficiently.”

A further 38km of wastewater pipes are scheduled to be cleaned and inspected during the 2017/18 financial year across the district.