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Stage one: Oreti river water pumped into treatment station

May 22, 2010

Plant Manager Martin Brough

The following is about my trip to the Branxholme water treatment station, which supplies Invercargill and Bluff’s water supply:

It looks almost deserted when I turn up at the water treatment plant. There’s only one other vehicle parked outside and it’s not like there is any sign pointing visitors in the right direction. Only three people work there full time. Despite the chunky buildings, sprawling pipes and complex-looking system of tanks and channeled water in various stages of treatment, most of it is fairly automated. Plant manager Martin Brough greets me amid the loud din of machinery and begins with a safety briefing in the main office.  In short: stay away from any nasty chemicals and don’t fall off anything and into the water.  In the event of a chlorine gas leak (yikes) there is no assembly point as it depends which way the wind is going. Assemble upwind of any leak. I assure him I won’t be leaving his side.

We walk around the buildings to where the water intake starts. We’re about 20km out of Invercargill, although when the city was first established water came from bores in Queens Park. “It’s a relatively reliable source here. You can’t go much down stream because it becomes tidal and then it runs into all sorts of issues,” Martin says. A channel has been cut, diverting water from the main branch of the Oreti River, to the pump house, which has 4 submersible pumps. Martin points out where the recent floods came to; the channel, surrounding trees and most of the pumphouse was flooded. About 30 to 35 million litres of water goes through the treatment plant a day, depending on demand, although the plant is consented to take 45 million litres if need be.

The river water about to be sucked up is murky and has a greenish tinge. I wouldn’t drink it and Martin says he definitely wouldn’t. The water is tested for nasties, such as e-coli, prior to treatment, and that gets analysed at the Clifton testing lab. The gates at the pumphouse stop sticks, fish, dead birds and other bits of debris getting in. Of course I have to ask, what else has it caught? Martin says he has heard of a sheep once (before he worked there) and occasionally ducks – which didn’t get retrieved after getting shot by hunters.

We walk into a small concrete building, not much larger than a shed, where lime gets added. My next post will continue my journey. Please give feedback or comments.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandy Ditchburn permalink
    January 6, 2011 3:29 am

    Hi Juliet,
    Am I able to use this information to put on flyers I am planning on handing out at a protest I am organising for the water quality/taste in Invercargill?
    It would be great if you could let me know.

    • January 6, 2011 7:52 am

      Hi Sandy,
      I’d really rather you didn’t as I think it would take my comments and that of the plant manager out of context when put on a flyer. Far better I think would be for you to talk to the water treatment manager yourself or a water scientist at Environment Southland for background into the river’s water quality (you can access reports on water quality on the Environment Southland website, which may give official information) and about why the odour is there. Are you protesting about the water quality of the river or the state of it after treatment? I reckon the two issues are distinct. Good luck with it.

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