15 Sep 2021

Country's largest water to land discharge system gets green light

9:46 pm on 15 September 2021

Palmerston North's mayor has berated some of his councillors for "getting political at the eleventh hour" during a meeting today to decide how the city will manage its wastewater for the next 50 years.

No caption

Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

The Council has approved plans in a 10 to six vote, for what will be the country's largest wastewater to land discharge system - 760 hectares.

Under the plans, for most of the time all wastewater will discharge into the Manawatū River.

But for about quarter of the time, most of the wastewater - an estimated 75 percent - will be rerouted away from the river and used to irrigate crops on land.

Those opposed to the option were angry there was not a clearer mandate for diverting waste away from the river.

Deputy mayor Aleisha Rutherford was one of them.

"I'm feeling incredibly disappointed that after four years of this to be voting against it. I genuinely, even at the beginning of today, did not think I would be in this position."

She said the plan was not ambitious enough.

"I genuinely believe that people are going to find this decision unacceptable, and I'm not talking 50 years... I'm thinking in a few years time.

"We are agreeing for the next 50 years for daily waste water discharge into our river."

Councillor Lorna Johnson agreed.

"There's a very vague indication of adaptive management being used to increase diversion [away from the river] but without targets and without specificity we could be left in exactly the same situation where we're discharging to the river every single day."

"That is not the community's aspiration for how we would treat our river. I think there will be people extremely disappointed."

"This is a long way from where I hoped we would be... I'm honestly speechless, I cannot support this."

But the mayor Grant Smith said the waste water would leave the river.

"I just find it unbelievable that this is being painted as we're not going to get out of the river... people that don't even come to meetings saying we've got no ambition.

"Absolute bollocks... it really annoys me at the eleventh hour we've got people trying to get political mileage out of this.

"This is absolutely going to get out of the river, not in the timeframe that a certain councillor or two want, but it will get there."

The council had previously passed an amendment to cap the land grab at 760 hectares. Other options suggested as much as 2000 ha would need to be taken.

For councillor Karen Naylor, the 760 ha was still too much and she voted against the option.

"I would have preferred less land used. I cannot support an option that is unaffordable and detrimental to the social fabric of our community."

Landowners had previously raised concerns the land taken would severely hit the regions productivity, and threaten the region's economic viability as a distribution hub.

However, Councillor Susan Baty said productive land would be protected, and there was "no way" using class one or two land would make it through the consent process.

"We have not put a proposal forward to take class one and two soils - over my dead body."

The wastewater would be treated to the highest practicable level, which is level four, which would almost convert it back to a drinkable standard.

It would now work through the Resource Management consent process and consult with affected landowners.

A consent needs to be filed by mid-next year.