The Eye of the Fish

March 4, 2011

Toilet talk

I’m beginning to think that the worst problem Wellington is going to face, come “the Big One”, is the sewerage system. We can learn a lot from the events in Christchurch, and I sure hope that WCC are taking notes and formulating actions.

Personally, I’m not so worried if the roads north get cut off with slips – I wouldn’t want to go and live in Palmerston North even if you paid me – this is my town and I’m staying here till the end. I maintain that we don’t need Boondoggle Gully to be built at a price we can’t afford (a billion or two that we really do NOT have), for the main purposes of getting Wellingtonians out of town on Friday nights (tough – stay home, or take the Ferry south); getting mostly retired Kapiti coasters in to do some shopping at Kirkcaldies (tough – stay and shop in Coastlands); or getting our New World foodstuffs on the shelves at 4.30am (no traffic jams then anyway). If we need to evacuate, we can go by boat.

Let’s save the money on roads, and make sure that our infrastructure is up to scratch – and that’s the bit that worries me most. Like most Wellingtonians, I have copious amounts of spare water supplies ferreted away (unlike, it seems, most Cantabrians). Remember – the water is not just for drinking – it’s for pouring down the toilet as well. I have torch, radio, supply of enough food to last for a few weeks or months (cans are great – remember to have a can-opener there as well!), I’m going to go buy a gas stove for emergencies when the supplies of Gaz are replenished – but, like most of us I suspect, our household has no alternative toilet facilities. There is no foldaway chemical toilet one can secret in a cupboard – there is no secret portaloo hidden in the back room.

Those numerous Wellingtonians that live in high-rise buildings cannot dig a long drop in the garden – there is no back yard for apartment dwellers, and even if you live in a modern apartment block that survives the quake unscathed, you still won’t want to have to poo on your designer stylee balcony. Of all the calamities likely to hit our capital city, lack of fresh water is likely to be a big one – but destruction of a working sewer system is likely to be an even bigger problem.

That’s the thing I’d like the Minister for Infrastructure to concentrate on most!

As far as i am aware, we have two systems in play in the Wellington region – the one in Wellington goes to Moa Point and discharges into the ocean off Lyall Bay, and the one from the Hutt goes along to Pencarrow somewhere and discharges out off the south coast. If either of those are broken, my guess is that it all goes into our pristine little harbour – and that would be a real tragedy.

Seamonkey Madness
4 - 03 - 11

Mention on wellington.scoop not so long ago is the fact that there is also a treatment plant in Karori that serves, well…Karori.

Thing is, apparently, that it doesn’t exactly do its job particularly well at the moment. Although I think the chances of CBD diaspora trekking all the way to Karori just for a #2 is quite slim, don’t you? If they did though, they’d literally be swimming in it.

4 - 03 - 11

Someone can’t spell Steven Joyce. You’d think they’d check before going to all the effort of designing and printing a poster?

I said last week that I think we need to look at distributing critical infrastructure and adding redundancy where needed. I think this applies to sewerage as well. One of two giant sewerage plants disabled means 200,000 pooing in their gardens. One of ten distributed micro sewerage plants disabled means enough portaloos to go around.

4 - 03 - 11

It all makes sense now. I kept wondering where the r was coming from in “sewage” while watching the news reports. I kept hearing “sewa(r)ge” With the r under pronounced so I just thought it was similar to the backwater american tendency to put r in wash = warsh. I had no idea it was a different word.

As for flushing our waste into the harbour, not ideal by any means, but in a once in 200 year event, I think understandable. Major cities in the US have outdated storm water systems that are tied in with the sewage (or sewerage if you prefer) systems and on ever downpour they become backlogged and the sewage ends up in the streets and streams. Not a lovely experience. There was a woman in Washington DC who got in a car wreck and ended up in Rock Creek park during one of these storms. They rescued her from drowning only for her to die in hospital two days later from the bacterial infection…

60 MPa
4 - 03 - 11

I’ve seen a table that shows wastewater gets a heavy weighting for reconstruction in Wgtn – the link is obscenely long but if you GoogImageSearch “nz wellington lifelines” it comes up at about #9.
The pipe out past Eastbourne that carries Hutt Waste is long, skinny and vulnerable.

Here’s ya hazards$file/WN-EQ-Map4-Wellington.JPG

And here’s where they’ll hit in an EQ in Welly

When it comes to poos in an apartment the old stretch-a-shopping-bag-over-your-toilet trick is required. Bag ‘n’ Biff

Not only would I trek to shit on Karori I would suggest sealing the entrances off and nuking that cesspit from orbit – it’s the only way to be sure.

4 - 03 - 11

WCC = Water Closet Council, right? » Ohariu MP publishes city council’s list of earthquake-prone Wellington buildings
4 - 03 - 11

[…] Maximus on sewerage and emergencies […]

4 - 03 - 11

minimus – yes, there is a small but subtle (and very smelly) difference.

Sewage is the actual poo and stuff that goes down the loo ie “waste water and excrement conveyed in sewers”

Sewerage is the system and provision of drainage by sewers that conveys the sewage.

Rather than saying it’s ok for this to happen once every 200 years, wouldn’t it make more sense to design into the system some additional redundancy so that if the event happened more often, or for other reasons, that the event didn’t happen at all?

In times like this, of course, I think of the Simpsons, and the time that Homer contaminated the lake with pig manure….

4 - 03 - 11

“Let’s save the money on roads, and make sure that our infrastructure is up to scratch – and that’s the bit that worries me most.”

hear hear.

On a tangent, I’ve been floating an idea with friends that we should give every building a grade for how safe they are in an earthquake, e.g. A, B, C,.. F = absolutely f*#ked, that must be displayed in a prominant position so people can make the choice if they want to hang out or patronise these buildings. A) it might encourage some owners to upgrade, B) it makes the issue promenant and puts it in the public domain for discussion, voting, etc. C) it gives people the choice, liberty, all that good stuff.

4 - 03 - 11

I think we need something new, isn’t this what the Romans were doing? If rainwater tanks and compostable toilets were encouraged by councils there would be people in Christchurch now in good position to handle events like this. Compostable toilets might not be everyones cup of tea, but free compost..
Better than a portaloo for 2 years. Its a chance for Christchurch to endorse sustainable ideas, but I think the council will just fix all the sewerage pipes anyway. Its sad, we’re so used to the not in my backyard approach.

5 - 03 - 11

you’re right Sav, about the Nimbys, yet that is what the world used to do for years. Back yard privies were the means of waste disposal for – ooh, probably several thousand years. Most of early New Zealand would have had a long-drop out the back – and so there must be hundreds of disused, well-composted, out of date facilities nestling in the rear sections of inner city housing throughout the country.

On the other hand, I remember my mother telling me that there used to be a “night soil man” who would come round with his smelly horse and cart, at night so that no one would see or smell the collector, and come round the back of the property and take away the day’s / week’s “doings” in a bucket, and slop it into the back of his wagon. This was in what is now a inner-residential suburb. In exchange, my mother would also have to go out into the road and scoop up the horse poo left by people in Wellington with horse-drawn transport, to spread around the roses in the front garden. In effect then, this was some sort of poo-exchange – you take my shit, I’ll take yours. An early version of Trade Me perhaps?

5 - 03 - 11

Isn’t sewerage a fascinating topic? Now I first thought the regional council might be looking after this stuff as those that are uphill benefit from those down hill (Upper Hutt/Hutt City)… I decided to hit google and find out more… it seems that Wellington and Porirua are proud of their facilities, including pics on their websites in a subtle PR attempt to justify pouring the brown stuff in to Moa point and Titahi Bay. For me, both of these councils have gone along way and the days of surfers in Lyall and Titahi Bay coming across floaters, is long gone.

And there’s interesting factoids – Wellington facility deals with 24 million litres of the stuff per year – the solids head up to above the tip to be turned in to garden compost (no need for those horses from the night soil man)… And, I understand the hardest thing for this facility is to stop the tomato seeds from germinating in the compost (don’t ask).

I may be wrong, but when the architects building Melbourne’s Council building were looking for green initiatives one of their more left-field approaches was to de-water the sew(er)age as, the energy used in pumping all that liquid is apparently very substantial.

Perhaps the next most useful invention will be to take the water out of the effects of Mr Crapper’s invention.

5 - 03 - 11

Hey erentz – shouldn’t we encourage people to use and love old buildings and discourage ideas that are very likely to lead owners to pulling them down. If a building is rated F it won’t be fixed under your thinking, it will be pulled down and replaced with something cheap (as the owner also has to offset the loss in value of the building and the cost of the new) – simple economics.

The truth is, if we want to see buildings preserved we need everyone to clearly understand their worth and place some real ($) value on heritage. At the moment this just doesn’t happen and the only people who put effort in to re-strengthening are those owners who already appreciate the value of heritage (typically Councils and churches).

6 - 03 - 11

Denny, yep we should. But continuing to ignore it because you’re afraid of the consequences is not reasonable. The issue of how we value and care for existing heritage buildings, or ensure new buildings are good additions to the city, needs to be tackled directly.

It’s clearly not fair on the people that work in them, patron the shops and restaurants in them, or live in them. Really it only suits the owner of the property that doesn’t want to invest in its upgrade or replacement. If we’re too timid to force upgrades or too timid to create new processes that ensure their replacements are positive additions to the city, then we should at least give people the choice not to go into them.

To date the debate about what to do about these earthquake prone buildings has all been behind closed doors. Great for developers. Not for people. Time to make it a public debate. The only reason for you to be afraid is if our leadership is timid when it comes to handling development and our built environment. (Oh, I see now. We’re doomed.)

6 - 03 - 11

The issue of who pays for strengthening work done to heritage buildings is the crucial part of the argument. At present, the entire cost comes back onto the owner of the property – which is one of the key reasons that Wellington City Council sold off some of its stock of buildings recently. They had made no provision for the work, knew they couldn’t afford it, and wanted to flick it on before they had to saddle themselves with the cost – there’s a certain irony there with the WCC behaving just like a typical naughty developer.

On the other hand, once the buildings are destroyed by an earthquake (or other Act of God), then suddenly there is all this money available from insurers and the EQC.

Doh ! Too late! The building, the very thing you were trying to save, is gone already! The insurer pays out, the owner pockets the money (and if we’re lucky, they may rebuild), and then the insurer refuses to allow you to insure again, thereby ensuring that the owner cannot afford to get the site rebuilt.

A far more logical thing to do would be for the insurance companies to pay a fraction of the money out beforehand, to assist owners to address the shortcomings with their heritage buildings, and provide strengthening so that the buildings can resist earthquakes, and not simply succumb.

10 - 03 - 11

Possibly you, like me, have been paying more attention to your Emergency / Earthquake preparedness kit as of late. I had not thought of getting a portable temporary chemical toilet before, but seeing Bob Parker waving one about the other day, made me aware that they were possibly affordable – and maybe could be bought at the local supermarket.

We’re out of luck. Apparently, NZ has used up not just NZ’s, but the world’s supplies. There are none to be found. Allegedly. Which sounds like a load of crap to me. But, if they ever do come back on sale…. I’m there! Nothing like being prepared… » Too much information, too much money
11 - 03 - 11

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