Inconsistent dirty water stance worry

Non-compliance by some of Waitaki's wastewater treatment plants is concerning Otago regional councillors worried about the double-standard message it is sending the region's dairy farmers.

The regional council visited Waitaki District Council-owned wastewater treatment plants in Palmerston, Moeraki, Kakanui and Oamaru to check their compliance with their resource consent conditions late last year.

As a result, Moeraki and Kakanui were given significant non-compliance grades and Oamaru and Palmerston minor non-compliance, a report to the regional council's regulatory committee said.

Council resource management director Dr Selva Selvarajah said Moeraki's bad grade was due to poor effluent quality being discharged directly into Waiwherowhero Creek.

There was a long history of problems with the plant and its stringent consent conditions were eased about five years ago.

Waitaki District Council was looking at a new system and had asked for another two-year extension.

''It's disappointing to know of this ongoing non-compliance for many years. It's taken a long time and now we're considering another two-year extension.''

With Kakanui, the effluent had leaked underground from its wetland system and the council again was looking at a new system, in this case to pipe it to Oamaru.

''They're asking for a bit more time.''

Cr Trevor Kempton said it was difficult when people perceived the council's reaction to these problems as ''one rule for farmers and another for urban areas''.

Cr Michael Deaker agreed, asking staff why they were so tolerant with local authority breaches.

Dr Selvarajah said the main reason was practicality in what a consent-holder could achieve on large, expensive projects funded by the ratepayer.

''We could prosecute them or fine them but what happens afterwards?''The council was happy to use the regulatory tool on territorial authorities when there was ''blatant'' non-compliance, he said.

However, it took a ''pragmatic approach'' if time was needed for ''extremely expensive systems'' as it was ratepayers who footed the cost of any fines.

Waitaki District Council assets group manager Neil Jorgensen said the council was aware it had issues with its smaller rural wastewater treatment systems and recognised it was not complying with its consent conditions in Moeraki and Kakanui.

It had received consents on December 18 to allow it two years to construct the new pipeline to Kakanui which would remove the need for consents for that township. The estimated cost was $230,000, he said.

Moeraki was ''not an easy fix'' and the regional council had granted it a two-year consent to give it time to find an affordable solution for its community, he said.

About $200,000 had been budgeted to find a solution which was a lot of money for just 200 connections, Mr Jorgensen said.

The council had been upgrading its wastewater treatment systems and had been granted consents for systems in Omarama, Otematata and Duntroon by Environment Canterbury.

- rebecca.fox@odt.co.nz