Focus should shift to front end of wastewater issues

EDITORIAL

Gisborne city has one infrastructure challenge above all others, and that is how its wastewater is handled.

There are two sides to the problem. At the front end are wastewater overflows during heavy rain, as stormwater infiltrates the city’s sewerage system and pressure builds to the point where scours have to be opened into city rivers, to avoid wastewater rising back up into properties. And out the back end, 1.8km into Poverty Bay, the continuing disposal of treated wastewater via a marine outfall.

Both raise major environmental and cultural concerns in our community. Both have long histories. Both will cost tens of millions of dollars to remedy.

The most focus over the past 12 years has gone into the back-end problem, after the opposition of tangata whenua and others to human waste entering our foodchain was finally recognised. The BTF treatment plant commissioned in December 2010 was a major advance, but traces of human DNA remain in the treated wastewater. Local iwi have compromised significantly to allow legal dispensation for continued use of the outfall, potentially past 2020 as long as the council has demonstrated best endeavours to end disposal to sea by then.

Meanwhile wastewater discharges to our rivers during heavy rain have multiplied in recent years and become the No.1 concern of many locals.

The council’s newly-named Lifelines department is starting to make gains in reducing the likelihood of discharges being required, and will be in a position to more clearly outline the issues and potential solutions later next month.

In mid-December the council will decide its preferred further wastewater treatment and alternative disposal option (which looks set to be a 12ha wetland) to then consult on early next year for its Long-Term Plan.

It is becoming apparent, however, that the greatest focus needs to shift to fixing our front-end wastewater problems. Making significant progress there, plus deciding if Wainui and Makaraka should join the wastewater network, will also impact on the scale of further treatment and alternative disposal needs.

Gisborne city has one infrastructure challenge above all others, and that is how its wastewater is handled.

There are two sides to the problem. At the front end are wastewater overflows during heavy rain, as stormwater infiltrates the city’s sewerage system and pressure builds to the point where scours have to be opened into city rivers, to avoid wastewater rising back up into properties. And out the back end, 1.8km into Poverty Bay, the continuing disposal of treated wastewater via a marine outfall.

Both raise major environmental and cultural concerns in our community. Both have long histories. Both will cost tens of millions of dollars to remedy.

The most focus over the past 12 years has gone into the back-end problem, after the opposition of tangata whenua and others to human waste entering our foodchain was finally recognised. The BTF treatment plant commissioned in December 2010 was a major advance, but traces of human DNA remain in the treated wastewater. Local iwi have compromised significantly to allow legal dispensation for continued use of the outfall, potentially past 2020 as long as the council has demonstrated best endeavours to end disposal to sea by then.

Meanwhile wastewater discharges to our rivers during heavy rain have multiplied in recent years and become the No.1 concern of many locals.

The council’s newly-named Lifelines department is starting to make gains in reducing the likelihood of discharges being required, and will be in a position to more clearly outline the issues and potential solutions later next month.

In mid-December the council will decide its preferred further wastewater treatment and alternative disposal option (which looks set to be a 12ha wetland) to then consult on early next year for its Long-Term Plan.

It is becoming apparent, however, that the greatest focus needs to shift to fixing our front-end wastewater problems. Making significant progress there, plus deciding if Wainui and Makaraka should join the wastewater network, will also impact on the scale of further treatment and alternative disposal needs.

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