Consent sought to discharge wastewater to land

The next step has been taken to find a way to dispose of the Gore district’s wastewater.

The district council’s previous consents, which allowed the discharge of water into the Mataura River, have expired but Environment Southland agreed to put the council’s consent application on hold until April 30 while a technical working group investigates land disposal options.

The Hokonui Runanga no longer supported water going directly to the river.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, councillors narrowly passed a motion for staff to prepare a resource consent to Environment Southland to discharge wastewater to land.

Five councillors, Robert McKenzie, Joe Stringer, John Gardyne, Andy Fraser and Paul McPhail, voted against the motion.

A report was tabled at the meeting by Three Waters assets manager Matt Bayliss.

In the report, Mr Bayliss recommended a resource consent be prepared despite the financial cost of the upgrades needed to treat the water being "significant".

It is estimated the upgrades would cost between $55 million and $77m for Mataura and Gore.

The upgrades would be implemented in stages and could take up to 12 years, Mr Bayliss said in the report.

During the discussion, Cr McPhail said he was concerned about making a decision that was going to affect residents for decades when the cost of the project was not known.

Interim chief executive Stephen Parry said the council faced a "Hobson’s choice" situation where it needed to get a resource consent to dispose of wastewater.

The council also needed to be lobbying government.

"What behoves this council and many others is to say to the government this is a national problem and needs an national solution in terms of funding."

Cr Keith Hovell said if the council did not apply for a consent it might find itself in the Environment Court.

Government needed to come up with a funding model for territorial authorities and a way of sharing the cost, Cr Hovell said.

"In its absence we have an evolving crisis which is facing local government and [central] government needs to act swiftly."

Cr Stewart MacDonell said the implementation of the project in stages could work in the council’s favour.

"By that time a lot of things could have changed so we just need to get the consent process under way."

Cr John Gardyne said the upgrade was "not affordable to small-town New Zealand and we need to do something quite different".

"I will oppose it totally."