DCC says wastewater treatment plant discharge compliant

The Dunedin City Council said yesterday its Green Island wastewater treatment plant was compliant with all discharge quality limits.

Its response followed reports of bloody water and globs of animal fat rushing from Dunedin sewers into the Green Island wastewater treatment plant last year.

Opposition parties and environmental groups put pressure on the Government yesterday to urgently amend the law so companies caught dumping contaminated waste water down the drain can be fined.

Data RNZ obtained from 68 city and district councils showed at least 270 companies breached their conditions.

Not a single one was prosecuted last year.

Earlier yesterday, council senior compliance officer Frank van Betuw described the non-compliant trade waste discharge into the treatment plant to RNZ .

It came from a rendering factory nearby, Mr van Betuw said.

"It’s been happening for many, many years," he said.

However, council three waters group manager Tom Dyer said non-compliant trade waste discharges did not necessarily cause non-compliant discharges from a wastewater treatment plant.

The Green Island plant had been fully compliant for three years, Mr Dyer said.

The Tahuna wastewater treatment plant had only had minor instances of non-compliance.

The council had five other smaller treatment plants, but those did not receive significant trade waste discharges and had no issues that could be attributed to trade waste.

The council’s wastewater treatment operators noticed potential problems and isolated any poor-quality discharges which could damage the treatment process, he said.

When the council received a poor-quality discharge, it carried out additional monitoring in the environment and provided results to the Otago Regional Council and affected parties.

If the council knew where the discharge was likely from, staff would investigate the issue and educate the discharger.

If it could prove where the discharge was from, the council would then recover costs incurred, Mr Dyer said.

Councils have been pleading with successive governments for the past 18 years to fix a loophole in the law to allow them to issue fines.

The Local Government Act 2002 gave councils the power to issue fines, but a drafting error in the law meant the regulations allowing it could not be written.

While they can prosecute breaches in court, in reality it has never been done because it is too costly.

Forest & Bird spokesman Tom Kay said amending the Local Government Act had to be a top priority for the Government so companies that breached consents could be held to account.

"And it’s a really simple fix.

"The minister needs to make it a priority to address that as soon as possible.

"We understand there is a draft Bill out there that can be picked up and progressed really rapidly to plug that hole in the Local Government Act," Mr Kay said.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Jessica Desmond said the large number of big brands found to have multiple breaches was concerning.

"A lot of them are very well-known New Zealand companies, a lot of them spend a lot of time and money telling the public how sustainable they are," Ms Desmond said.

National Party local government spokesman Christopher Luxon said it was "common sense" to amend the law to allow fines to be issued.

Green Party three waters spokeswoman Eugenie Sage would also be lobbying her Labour colleagues for change.

"It’s really not good enough that a loophole in the Local Government Act that these companies rely on to escape financial sanction has been known about for nearly two decades," Act New Zealand local government spokesman Simon Court said.

Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta was not available for an interview, but in a statement agreed there was a lack of regulation and investment in waste water infrastructure.

The new water service regulator, Taumata Arowai, would be looking at the ways waste water treatment was regulated, she said.

However, that new body will not tackle waste water for at least the next two years. — additional reporting RNZ

 

Comments

Mahuta is being very poorly advised by her ministry. The message she is getting is that local government needs to be spending more on infrastructure to make the problem go away.

While that is part of the solution, it does not address the fact that major industrial polluters need to be held responsible for their discharges into the environment and to public treatment facilities, especially when the pollutants are particularly nasty (e.g. chromium) and hard for wastewater treatment plants to deal with.

It's a two-pronged approach to ensuring waste is properly treated with both th public (through local councils) and private enterprise being responsible.

As long as regulators don't have the power to fine polluters the responsibility will fall totally on the public to fix the problem. Major industries need to have the big stick in the form of major fines hanging over them before they will take any responsibility.

Any fines can be used to help develop and imp[rove public treatment facilities. Changing the legislation to close the loophole and allow fines to be issued is a very simple and quick fix.

 

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