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July 31, 2017 | by  | in News |
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New Water Source for Wellington

In a world first operation, attempts are being made to drill beneath the Wellington Harbour to tap into a fresh water resource.

The Kaikōura earthquake in 2017 exposed the reliance of both Wellington and Porirua on feeder pipes to deliver fresh water from other city centres in emergency situations.

Wellington Water’s Alex van Paassen told Salient that Wellington is at “significant risk of being without water after an earthquake,” due to the feeder pipes’ proximity to numerous fault lines. A large earthquake has the potential to leave Central and Eastern Wellington without a water supply for up to 100 days.

Wellington Water is therefore investigating potential emergency water bore sites in Porirua and Wellington, including under the Wellington Harbour.

Wellington’s Waiwhetu Aquifer currently supplies Wellington and Lower Hutt with fresh water. The confined aquifer extends from Boulcott, Lower Hutt and continue beneath the Wellington Harbour. While the part of the aquifer that extends out to the harbour is currently inaccessible, the project seeks to tap into the resource as an emergency water supply.

Wellington Water collaborated with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) to verify the best location from which to drill the aquifer.

The drilling process, carried out by McMillan Drilling, requires a combination of barge and drill rig equipment. This includes precautions to ensure the aquifer is not contaminated by seawater or other life that would impair its condition.

The project’s first drilling attempt coincided with the turbulent weather of the last few weeks and was therefore unsuccessful. A second trial was attempted, successfully breaching the aquifer at a depth of 50 metres below sea level. Water samples collected from the aquifer were sent for testing to determine their quality.

The project’s next phase will be further extraction of water from the existing cavity in order to test flow and quality.

The ultimate aim is to treat and dispense the water gathered from under the harbour into the city’s water network. In the event of a civil emergency, van Paassen said that Wellington Water would endeavour to “distribute it as best we could to the community.”

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