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Bange on the Waihi Borough Council 1960 – 1988

Another rumour affected the next of my major work aspects I will deal with, the Waihi Borough water supply. To start this tale I have to go back to the early 1960's. Owen Morgan was on the Council and had been for some years. He had been instrumental in getting the Waitete water supply established, supplementing the main old Walmsley supply, a few year before I arrived on the scene in Waihi.

This had eliminated, to a large extent, regular water shortages being experienced in town, leading to restrictions. However this problem still arose during the summer, when 'run of stream' flows dwindled during 'dry spells'. The Waitete intakes (two streams), had no storage at all and the main Walmsley intake a very limited storage capacity. A small secondary intake feeding the Walmsley main also had no storage.

The catchments area's for both supplies were roughly one square mile (about 2.5 km squared each). Another invaluable thing Owen Morgan had done, over a number of years, was the measuring of low stream flows from small streams in the hills surrounding Waihi. (He had used a small rectangular weir cut into a wooden plank for this – not very accurate for small flows). I continued these 'gaugings', for both the Walmsley and Waitete supply streams, using a more refined V notch weir, cut out of a sheet of galvanised flat iron.

An adequate year long reliable safe water supply for Waihi had to be evaluated and eventually provided for. And in this, Owen's and my philosophy were dramatically opposed, as soon became evident.

Owen's answer was to add more and more small streams to the supply, ever multiplying intakes. The options, in my opinion, available were, either pumping water from the Ohinemuri River or building a seasonal storage facility (dam) on either the Waitete or Walmsley stream. In both instances a treatment plant and service reservoir would have to be included.

Apart form a multiplicity of intakes, Owen's approach would also tie up more and more land as to be protected water supply catchments, limiting other uses of such land. Development of seasonal storage, i.e. building a dam to catch winter flows from a single catchment, would utilise the land to the full, 'harvesting water' year round and assuring summer supplies. It took many years of argument before Owen one day in an 'aside' confided to me 'that he had lost!' One of the reasons it took so long was, that Owen had for many years been the 'water supply expert' in the town and here was this young upstart Dutch Engineer trying to tell the council that Owen's idea's were wrong. Hadn't Owen; 'saved' the town by construction of the 'cheap' Waitete supply. The Engineers ideas would cost millions of dollars.

And yes, I was arguing for a 'gravity supply' to be investigated for the town in favour of a 'pumped' supply from the Ohinemuri River. And because the development of a water supply scheme is a very expensive entity, that has to be entered into in one full swoop. I also recommended to Council, to take up discussions with the adjoining Ohinemuri County with a view of possibly developing a joint supply, serving not only Waihi Borough, but also Waihi Beach and possibly Waikino townships. Both these townships suffered inadequate supply situations at the time. Particularly Waihi Beach suffered from summer shortages, aggravated by the massive influx of holiday makers during that time.

Because of the size of such a study Council had to go to consultants and Babbage and Partners were engaged with partner Paul Edwards as project leader. These consultants had been engaged previously by the County and Paul was an ex County Engineer, familiar with the local territory.

Meantime, I had earlier constructed a permanent large 'V notch' weir, upstream of the small Walmsley reservoir, in concrete, capable of measuring all but the largest flood flows in the stream.

As part of the study, this weir was equipped with recording flow level instruments and a recording rain gauge. This provided valuable rainfall – run off data and also rainfall – elevation above sea level data in correlation with the Waihi Town recording rainfall station. After initial data supply for our study the Walmsley station was for years operated by the Hauraki Catchment Board and must have provided valuable data for a typical small hill catchment.

The brief to the consultants eventually covered two scenarios. One, for a development to service Waihi Town and immediate surrounds, only and two, to harvest the maximum supply from the catchment to be utilised and service Waihi Beach as well. The two schemes were soon referred to as the 'low' and the 'high' dam schemes. (The difference in dam height I recall to be only around two metres). Initial investigations showed that the most suitable dam location would be in the Walmsley Valley, a short distance down stream from the existing old concrete dam. The 'supply potential' from each catchment (Walmsley and Waitete), was about the same. More detailed analysis and design was therefore concentrated on the Walmsley and estimates prepared for both 'high' and 'low' dam schemes.

Because a water supply is an expensive entity to establish, to utilise 'water harvesting' from the catchment to the maximum and to service the maximum number of consumers, I myself strongly recommended to Council and promoted the 'high' dam scheme. Moreover once a low dam was built it would be uneconomical if not impossible to turn this into a 'high' dam.

At the time water supply developments (Headworks treatment plants and service reservoirs) were encouraged by Central Government and as such carried substantial subsidies. As well the Town Clerk at the time had discovered the existence of an 'obscure' small Government Fund (A few million dollars only), which Local Authorities could make applications for assistance to. The Town Clerk and myself put an application together and succeeded in obtaining a grant of 'several hundred thousand dollars', towards the dam costs, should we proceed with the scheme.

By now my Borough Council was fully in favour of the development, but a 'battle' was looming for the Ohinemuri County Council to become equally enthusiastic.

The then County Clerk, Merv Parker, who had been in office for many years, was strongly against the joint development, as being too expensive for Waihi Beach. The County Chairman, Blanch Fisher, was strongly in favour but his Council, always politically divided between the 'plains farmers' (west of the ranges) and the 'hill farmers', east of the ranges, was equally divided and as always very suspicious, that another authority (the Borough), should be willing to extend a helping hand across it's boundaries. (There had to be strong benefits for the Borough in it!!).

Apart from the 'struggle' with the County, as well a rumour had started circulating in the Borough, that any dam in the proposed scheme was only required to supply the Mining company for their operations! There was not a grain of truth in this, but rumours are notoriously hard to quell.

On top of all this, the tri-annual local body elections were looming. Loan applications for the Borough had meantime been made and approval obtained. A final meeting, to convince the County Clerk of mutual benefits, had been arranged between the consultants (Paul Edwards), the County Clerk, and County Engineer and myself in Paeroa. Knowing that the County Clerk was going to harp on the cost to County ratepayers for their part of the scheme, I had fully (manually, no computers yet), analysed the estimated annual charges for Borough ratepayers, County farmer ratepayers along the corridor route from the Borough to Waihi Beach township (Part State Highway 2 and then the Waihi Beach road) and Waihi Beach urban ratepayer charges. All this information I had ready to present at the meeting in Paeroa.

Imagine my surprise, when before the joint meeting had started the County Clerk requested to meet with the consultant privately before me joining them. Little I could do but to agree. It took quite a while, when finally I was invited in. When informed, what the discussion had been about (in my absence), I advised those present that I had all the answers with me and could have saved everybody a lot of time. (Paul did not have these figures as the consultants had not broken down the County costs in that much detail). When I produced the results of my analysis and how arrived at, Paul readily agreed as to their fairness, but the County Clerk was still 'humming and haaing' about the expense and what was in it for the Borough.

I should note here, that the County Clerk's approach to any major expenditure in the County was, 'To put the cost of the proposal – expressed in rates – to a public meeting of ratepayers', and if at such a meeting the ratepayers present voted the proposal too costly, it was abandoned and he considered the County Council had met it's obligations. No effort was made to explain the need for the proposal long term and that it only would cost more in the future.

The County chairman for many many years had been a farmer from the 'plains' (west) side of the County and any development on the east side of the County had for all those years been viewed with suspicion. When Blanch Fisher was elected County Chairman he was the first (and to date the only), Chairman from the eastern side of the County.

He was making a tremendous effort to unify his 'west – east' divided council and was making progress in this. (After his untimely death the chairmanship reverted back to the west).

Getting into a bit of political comment here, but it should be realised, that politics, were never far removed, being rather an integral part of local authority work. I was well aware of this and found it an added challenge! I had a good rapport with Blanch Fisher (County Chairman).

But back to the water supply development issue. Following our joint (staff) meeting in Paeroa, the County Clerk, unbeknown to anyone not even his County Chairman, saw fit to compile and mail out a newsletter to all Waihi Beach ratepayers worded in such a way as to virtually condemn a joint water supply development with the Borough.

I heard about this letter and managed to get a copy of it. As soon as I had read it, I climbed on the phone to Blanch Fisher, to enquire whether he was aware of it. The answer was, 'no'. My comment to Blanch was; "Well, Merv (the County Clerk) has effectively torpedoed the joint Borough/County scheme." Blanch followed up immediately, but the damage had been done and he was unable to turn the tide.

Immediately following this, the Borough Council decided to proceed with the water supply for the Borough only (this included a small adjoining County area already on the water reticulation system). All necessary resolutions were passed. Unfortunately it was now very close to the Local Authority elections and a group of new candidates stood for Council, actively electioneering, that the water supply proposals were excessive and too costly.

Unfortunately they 'won the day' and enough of them were elected to gain a majority in Council. At the first Council meeting, following the elections, they moved 'en block' to reject all the Council resolutions related to the water supply development (they had a meeting amongst themselves only, at one of their homes, to decide on action to take and to vote 'en block').

So we were back to square one. However the Health Department had been on Council's back for many years, to treat the existing 'raw ' water supply, as a minimum requiring 'chlorination'. I had fought hard against such a 'limited move' as the turbidity range of the raw supply varied over such a wide range, that 'chlorination' by itself would only give a false sense of security, as no equipment existed to deal with such a wide range of turbidity. So, immediately following the new Council's decision, the Health Departments pressure came back on.

Well, that let the cat amongst the pigeons.!! And the new Councillors were facing a steep learning curve. It was not all simply 'black and white'.!!!

They had to do something. They could not very well admit, that they had been wrong and accept the need for the water supply development. In their 'wisdom', following meeting after meeting (almost weekly), they 'homed in' on the most expensive part of the proposal, the dam, for seasonal storage, which they eliminated, leaving the treatment plant and service reservoir to be developed. Note: The Walmsley trunk main had (following the earlier major flood damage) been renewed by a fifteen inch diameter main. In the original development scheme, with seasonal storage in the Walmsley catchment, the Waitete supply was going to be physically disconnected from the Borough's reticulation system, being no longer required. (It would be left in place only to act as an emergency stand by supply).

The only Councillor realising what the effect would be of the Council's decision, 'not to build the dam', (which he had supported), was Owen Morgan. The Waitete supply, unless treated would still be disconnected, putting the town supply position back 25 years, which was totally unacceptable.'

Council resolved to link the Waitete supply main to the Walmsley trunk main prior to the treatment plant, spending extra money without solving the seasonal supply situation but 'saving face' for themselves.

From memory the full scheme would have cost the Council some $200,000 more in loan finance, allowing for all the subsidies and grants which had been available. The loan would by now (2004), have been fully paid up and an assured cheap gravity supply would have been in place for many years to come. Before additional seasonal demands had to be provided for, installation of water meters, to curtail demand, would give a breathing space, to plan for new large capital expenditure timing.

This avenue is no longer available, as the new District Council has instituted universal water metering already some years ago. Neither are subsidies and grants any longer available and to date no economic answer fro an assured seasonal supply has been found for Waihi. I still regret, that I failed in my efforts to establish this service for Waihi. In hindsight, had I left the County to its own devices and concentrated on the town of Waihi an assured seasonal supply for the town would have been in place. However this would have gone against the grain of my professional engineering ability, not to seek the greater good for the greater number, and faced with the same situation I would have acted the same.

Anyway, I succeeded in achieving a fully treated supply (flocculation, filtration and chlorination plus provision for later adding fluoridation) being established for Waihi. Before this was a fact I had one further worry and it was a major one!

A large part of Waihi's reticulation consisted of old cast-iron pipes (from 10 cm to 25 cm diameter) which were heavily encrusted (so-called tubercular growth). Large quantities of fine, organic sediment were trapped in these encrustations, and even live eels were present in the pipes. Regular "flushing" of the system through fire hydrants was carried out but would not dislodge all the sediments.

My worry was that unacceptable tastes and smells would arise in the supply when treated (chlorinated) water replaced the raw water supply and react with the trapped organic sediment in the system. I contacted every available source I could think of, including many of my urban engineering colleagues in the North Island, to try and find a solution to this problem, but nobody could give me an answer.

Proper treatment requires a nominal amount of residual chlorine to be present at the consumers' taps. Very basic, cheap and simple measuring of this can be done. "Horrible" tastes and smells could only arise if no residual chlorine was present.

For the changeover from raw to treated water I therefore worked out a pattern for flushing the reticulation system, using several gangs of my workers, while "super chlorinating" the supply at the treatment plant.

Flushing was continued until residual chlorine was observed (using a simple test kit ) and repeated as required. From memory it took close to a week of repeating the "flushing pattern' for the desired result to be achieved.

And, to my great relief, not a single taste or smell complaint was ever received.

That is more than enough about water!

Before touching on the next category in my tale, one final work related item remains; sewage.

Way back in my story I mentioned that Waihi had very few septic tanks when we arrived on the scene. "Night soil" cans and collection service were the predominant means of dispersal of toilet wastes. Other liquid wastes were disposed of into soak holes or as was the case in commercial areas piped into the street channels. This was "acceptable" while the old mine was operating as dewatering water from the mine was pumped into the same street channels, thus flushing these 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week and ultimately discharging into the Mangatoetoe stream.

However, when mining ceased in 1952 this "flushing" stopped and particularly in the summertime unpleasant smells in the CBD became unacceptable. (This was before my time).

Apparently the Health Department brought pressure to bear on the Council and in Seddon Street a piped system was installed but still discharging into the Mangatoetoe stream.

On to the 1960's. Any new houses built had a septic tank installed and gradually more and more old houses had flush toilets and septic tanks installed. Eventually the Night Soil collection became uneconomic and before winding up the contract Council instituted a scheme providing finance towards an S.T. installation for people who could not afford the lump sum expenditure for same.

Eventually a piped sewage disposal system had to be resorted to. It took many years for this to eventuate. Territorial Local Authority amalgamation plans which reared their heads from time to time in the end hastened the creation of this service for Waihi.

Let me explain this: Apart from the multitude of problems Waihi had inherited from the many years of neglect prior to and after the final closure of the underground mining operations it had one major asset, namely 300 lease-hold sections at Waihi Beach.

As values increased and leases were renewed this ownership had become quite an important revenue source for the Borough. However, if and when the Borough would be amalgamated with other local authorities to become a District, such an asset would, after only a few years, become a District asset. To increase its options the Borough council managed to get legislation past to allow for freeholding of the beach leases. And as amalgamation drew closer and amalgamation "fears" increased it actioned this option and capitalised a major part of the leases.

Meantime surveys for sewer reticulation were completed and plans prepared for a staged reticulation development. Murray North and Partners were engaged as consultants for this with a Dutch engineer in their employ, Han Endert in charge. Oxidation ponds west of the Borough across the Ohinemuri River were the chosen site for the treatment process, with discharge into the river.

Once again we tried to interest the Ohinemuri County to include the residential areas adjacent to the Borough, at least in the survey and planning stage, but "No" once again, they were not interested. (Note: After amalgamation these areas were eventually serviced but extra pumping stations were then required).

The first stage of the scheme was completed and became operational towards the end of my working career with the Borough Council. Total reticulation and increasing the oxidation ponds to final size was completed shortly after my retirement. I supervised, on behalf of the consultants, the oxidation pond enlargement contracts after my retirement. Quite an interesting job, not only because of the many soil types encountered but also because the ponds had to remain operational at all times.

An interesting aside of this work were the old "mine tailings deposits" encountered along the riverbank. They formed a raised ridge of "fine sands" adjacent to the river. As a matter of interest I managed to get some samples analysed through the new mining exploration company, and, yes, they had a certain gold content but not enough to be economic to recover.

One incident during the first stage of sewage development I think is worthwhile to be recorded here.

It deals with the construction of the "rising main", which is the pipeline from the main pumping station at the end of Victoria Street to the oxidation ponds.

After crossing the Ohinemuri River the pipeline, which was attached to the new Victoria Street Bridge, entered private farmland to reach the ponds area which had already been purchased by the Council. An "easement" along the route of this pipeline had been publicly notified and was available for construction and future maintenance purposes.

Within about one hundred meters after leaving the road reserve the pipeline had to cross a swampy little creek on the farm. Very close to the easement was the farmer's metal track leading to his milk shed which also crossed the little creek.

The obvious answer to tackling the swamp crossing for the pipeline was to use the farm track for machine access. I approached the farmer to negotiate access terms, times suitable to him, making good and even improving the track, but "No way!" The only access on his farm we could use was the easement. He was quietly gloating, because he himself had had no end of trouble to eventually put a reliable crossing in over the swampy creek. (Right from the start this farmer had been difficult to deal with). Fortunately we had very cooperative contractors (from Thames) on this job and they viewed the limited access offered as a challenge. I had discussed the situation with the contractors' foreman and we agreed that we would achieve a workable crossing for the plant using "titree fascines" which the Borough staff would provide. So my own foreman (good old Wally) sent his gang up the Walmsley Valley to cut titree and bundle them up into fascines. Although use of the farm track would have been simpler we had no difficulty or time loss in crossing the swampy area (much to the farmer's disappointment!)

About time to touch on the next category:-