It remains unclear whether Napier council acted unlawfully when it discharged 10 million litres of raw sewage into Ahuriri Estuary earlier this year.
The council expelled the waste into the city’s waterways last April following a 1 in 5 year rainfall event without consent [it may or may not have needed] from the regional authority to do so.
The consenting issue came up at May’s corporate services committee when regional councillor Paul Bailey raised a report on the discharge – the first of its kind penned by NCC – as an urgent issue item.
According to the report on April 5 NCC determined there was insufficient transfer capacity to pump sewerage from the Latham Street WWPS through to the Wastewater Treatment Plant and insufficient capacity to discharge treated sewerage to the ocean outfall.
“The impact of this event was the potential for raw sewerage to discharge into the streets through surcharged manholes,” the report reads.
As such the NCC’s city services director Lance Titter recommended to his chief executive Wayne Jack to “to make a controlled discharge to the stormwater network”, an expulsion which lasted more than 18 hours releasing a total of 10,857 metres cubed of sewage.
When the issue of whether the action taken by Napier council had been consented or not came up at the May CSC meeting, regional council chief executive James Palmer informed his councillors that his group manager of resource management, Iain Maxwell, had written to NCC putting the city’s authority on one month’s notice.
“To file resource consents for the discharges that are currently unconsented,” he said.
When News Collective followed up with the regional body to see if its Napier counterpart had in fact filed for such a consent, HBRC’s resource use manager Wayne Wright said a retroactive consent is not needed for an incident such as the sewage discharge.
HBRC's resource use manager Wayne Wright.
“A consent is essentially a permission to pollute in the future with additional controls. We would never consent such an activity as that,” he says.
“The incident is being investigated by us and we are awaiting some further test results and NCC and HBRC have met to discuss the incident.”
However, NCC seems to think it does need to apply for a consent with an official information request revealing that the regional council had not raised any issues on the speed of its application.
“Napier city council has suggested in writing to the regional council that we develop a protocol in case a similar issue occurs in the future,” the request reads.
“HBRC agrees that it is a good idea to develop this protocol.”
Beyond the consent confusions which leads to unanswered questions around just how lawful the sewage discharge was, Napier council is also at a loss to explain just how much environmental damage the release of 10m litres of sewage did to the Ahuriri Estuary.
In a set of inquiries sent through to the council after the event, NCC’s communications and marketing manager Fiona Fraser lodged them as the abovementioned official information request.
Despite the extra time Fraser gave her colleagues to answer the questions raised, council staff were still unable to answer how much damage was done to the Estuary following the incident.
“Immediately following the discharge, which was four per cent of Napier’s typical daily wastewater egress, samples taken from the storm water drains, estuary and nearby rivers showed NO increase in the total pathogen load compared to other water bodies,” the LGOIMA request reads.
“An important consideration is the dilution. The waste water was already diluted at least five times, because of the level of stormwater infiltrating the wastewater network.
“It was then subsequently diluted at least 1:1000 in the stormwater system [when combined with stormwater], and further dilution would have then occurred once the water had been emitted into the estuary.”
Moreover, when asked why the city’s reticulation system could not cope with the 1 in 5 year event, the council was more concerned with not spending money than preventing such an event from occurring in the future.
“NCC is already in the middle of planning improvements to the infrastructure but we are aware that we need to strike a balance when it comes to affordability,” the request reads.
“A discharge of this nature is a rare event and it’s important that we are not committing too much ratepayer money to safeguarding a network that can already withstand almost every rainfall event without incident.”
The information request also says the council has provided an action plan to HBRC to ensure such an event does not happen in the future and includes a commitment to regular meetings between the staff of each council, increasing compliance with regards to illegal plumbing practices on ratepayers’ properties and an investigation into overflow storage at the wastewater treatment plant site.
Napier council has an extraordinary meeting slated for 3pm today at the Napier Conference Centre so councillors can debate a formal resolution on the 2017-18 rating monies – including rates for the city’s water system.
Napier council's full report into the April discharge event can be downloaded here.