Avoiding bulls, bees, magpies and wild pigs and overcoming the obstacles of dense gorse and bracken is all in a day’s work for crews maintaining the Lansdowne rural water scheme for runholders in the hills to the south of Christchurch.
Forty-four properties are reliant on water from this unique scheme, which was built a metre underground in the rugged hills between Halswell and Tai Tapu in the 1980s.
For 15 years Citycare Water Foreman Brian Newth has maintained the scheme, mapping the route of the pipes and improving access to the extent that crews can easily manage it.
What is not easy is the access, the animals and the bush needed to be negotiated to get to the pipes.
Plus, there’s the challenge of tracing leaks so they can be fixed, which requires real detective work.
Brian has encountered millions of swarming bees, angry bulls, defensive cows guarding their patch of field, thirsty cows rushing to the water, magpies dive bombing, and the ever-present threat of wild pigs emerging from the bush. (The wild deer, well they’re harmless!)
Extreme weather conditions have led to four-wheel drive vehicles needing to be winched out from the muddy mire and earthquakes and fires have proved hazardous for the Lansdowne pipes.
Health and safety concerns mean he doesn’t work alone and he wears a hard hat during magpie nesting season.
The Lansdowne scheme is fed by the city supply and the potable water travels 230 metres vertically.
“It’s remote, rugged country where in some cases no-one goes except us and the stock, or not even the stock,” Brian says.
“When there’s signs of a leak, such as an alert at one of the reservoirs or pumps going continuously, I look at the reservoir levels and flows to see where we can narrow it down.
“It can take two to three days to figure out where the leak is.”
Walking the line of the pipe network is often necessary and the site of a leak can be obvious by a spot of lush green grass, fed by the leaking water.
Fixing the leak is never simple. Equipment and tools often need to be carted long distances in the difficult terrain.
Much of the pipe network is accessed by four-wheel drive or on foot, with the landowners often helping transport staff and equipment on motorbikes and quad bikes, Brian says.
Some property owners have even built tracks to the pipes as it’s in their best interests for access to be simplified.
Over the years Brian has checked every restrictor in the scheme and tagged them with GPS. Metal stakes (called waratahs) point out the line of the pipes so crews can track the path of the scheme.
The water flows from the reservoir to storage tanks, then runs to private tanks and troughs to water stock.
The Christchurch City Council owns and maintains the scheme, while residents from both its area and the Selwyn District Council region use the water.
The maintenance is part of Citycare Water’s three waters contract for the city.
All over New Zealand, there are Citycare Water teams hard at work in rural areas maintaining water services for residents.
Other rural schemes in the Christchurch area, such as Akaroa, are more easily accessible for vehicles than Lansdowne.
Staying calm when there’s a four-metre high geyser of water shooting into the sky is all part of a day’s work for Citycare Water crews working on reactive maintenance. There’s also a bit of detective work required when Citycare Water crews arrive at the site of a leak.