Lisa Thomson has been going beyond the call of duty to get shit done as Raglan ward councillor.
On Wednesday last week she joined council worker Roger Smith on his weekly inspection of the 18 pumping stations in Raglan, a six-hour job that she described as “stinky and pooey”.
Her voluntary attendance was to get a clear understanding of how our sewage system works as she helps to develop a wastewater education programme to be rolled out across the district.
The education programme, along with the now weekly inspections of the pumping stations, is the start of a long-term, multimillion-dollar solution to reduce the number of sewage spills in the district, after three spills in four months into the Raglan Harbour last year.
“I have been wanting to do that for ages, actually, particularly just to get a clear picture of what our system looks like and how it operates,” says Lisa, who now feels so enlightened after helping to unblock a pump in Nero St.
“It’s been really insightful, a real eye opener… the system is massive – our capacity for waste is quite massive.
“And it’s astounding that we have 721 manholes in Raglan. It’s amazing the amount of infrastructure there is to get your poo from your bum to the ponds.”
Lisa, who describes her outing as fun, says each station has two submersible pumps built to submarine standards.
“There is a drop of about six to seven metres to where the pumps are,” says Lisa, who felt sick looking in – not because of all the human waste but because she has vertigo.
“You are looking down into an abyss.”
To unjam the pump in Nero St, “Roger went down” so he could attach it to a hoist. As it came up, Lisa washed the pump off with a hose and had to physically pull off what was stuck to it.
That was rags. And rope. And hair. All stuck together in a great big poo-covered ball.
The previous week Roger pulled out two colostomy bags, Lisa says.
“Also another time he pulled out three syringes, and he pulled out undies, and his only complaint was they didn’t fit him.
“It’s a very undesirable job to have.”
However: “It was a really neat day with Roger, he is very helpful, always has a smile on his face and nothing is too much work.”
Of their rounds, Lisa says they found big chunks of polystyrene in the system, and rocks.
“How does that get in there?”
She helped to bring up the floats – they indicate where the level of wastewater is at – and “there were nappies and wet wipes stuck to them”.
“On the floats and all around on the outside of the walls of the pumping station is fat! It comes out of your poo (and it’s from cooking) and sticks to the sides!
“The grossest one is the camping ground pumping station, you can see all those big poos floating around. Roger has to check it every day in summer because of the volume of waste.”
Lisa says her experience highlighted the importance behind the education programme she is developing with Raglan Community Board member Tony Oosten.
“Certainly, we as community members can make a difference by not putting nappies, down – or wipes, rags, undies colostomy bags, syringes …
“It’s not out of sight out, of mind… a local person has to go and take out all that shit jammed in that pump.
“Roger is on call to fix broken pipes, leaks, jammed pump stations, if there is an alarm going off … There’s the realisation that there is little time if there is a blockage – he has to work out very quickly what is wrong and get the necessary backup before there is an overflow.”
Lisa says the education programme, which will target residents and visitors, gives the green light about what to flush. The mantra is pee, poo and paper, only.
“It’s a bit like the tidy Kiwi thing, there will be different platforms of engagement and it will be quirky.”
And while Lisa is now keen to get out with other council workers, to get an understanding of their jobs, she hasn’t ruled out another foray into our sewage system.
Roger has offered to get her in the harness and inside the caverns of one of the pumping stations.
“So my next trip might be into the bowels of one of those,” she laughs.