High hopes rest on small-scale wetlands trial

EDITORIAL

Tucked away in a corner of the industrial subdivision is a small-scale trial that is on track to save the District Council, and the community, millions of dollars. It is also the beginning of the next chapter for a successful accord between the council and tangata whenua that has given a whole new face to efforts to transform the city’s wastewater system.

The wetlands trial near the council’s new treatment plant is an unprepossessing site with just an algae pond and boxes of plants standing out, but its appearance is far outweighed by its importance.

The object of the trial is to see whether a wetlands system can be used to reach the level required for the next stage of the council’s consent, instead of a far more costly system of mechanical clarifiers and ultraviolet light.

The trial has only been fully under way for the past two months and there is a December deadline by which the council must commit to the wetlands system, with a following two years to build it. The important question of exactly where that would be is yet to be answered.

It is worth remembering the progress that has been made since the early part of this century when the council and tangata whenua were locked in a battle at the Environment Court over the continued use of the outfall pipe, in a case where most of the decisions had gone strongly to Maori. Then in 2006 came the breakthrough with the wastewater agreement between the two parties that saw agreement reached on the existing consent.

There was another success when a proposed cost of $84m for the new wastewater plant was shaved back to a final figure of $39m by the time the plant was commissioned in December 2010.

It is not all plain sailing on the wastewater treatment front — there is work to do on the Turanganui-a-Kiwa project to restore the mauri of the waters of the bay, and a tricky side issue of the disposal of mortuary wastewater. But the spirit of the agreement that unlocked a major impasse remains, and there is cautious optimism that the trial will succeed.

Tucked away in a corner of the industrial subdivision is a small-scale trial that is on track to save the District Council, and the community, millions of dollars. It is also the beginning of the next chapter for a successful accord between the council and tangata whenua that has given a whole new face to efforts to transform the city’s wastewater system.

The wetlands trial near the council’s new treatment plant is an unprepossessing site with just an algae pond and boxes of plants standing out, but its appearance is far outweighed by its importance.

The object of the trial is to see whether a wetlands system can be used to reach the level required for the next stage of the council’s consent, instead of a far more costly system of mechanical clarifiers and ultraviolet light.

The trial has only been fully under way for the past two months and there is a December deadline by which the council must commit to the wetlands system, with a following two years to build it. The important question of exactly where that would be is yet to be answered.

It is worth remembering the progress that has been made since the early part of this century when the council and tangata whenua were locked in a battle at the Environment Court over the continued use of the outfall pipe, in a case where most of the decisions had gone strongly to Maori. Then in 2006 came the breakthrough with the wastewater agreement between the two parties that saw agreement reached on the existing consent.

There was another success when a proposed cost of $84m for the new wastewater plant was shaved back to a final figure of $39m by the time the plant was commissioned in December 2010.

It is not all plain sailing on the wastewater treatment front — there is work to do on the Turanganui-a-Kiwa project to restore the mauri of the waters of the bay, and a tricky side issue of the disposal of mortuary wastewater. But the spirit of the agreement that unlocked a major impasse remains, and there is cautious optimism that the trial will succeed.

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