Concern about a Queenstown Lakes District Council application that would legalise potentially illegal wastewater discharges into Queenstown Lakes waterways is growing in some sectors of the community.
However, a Queenstown Lakes District Council engineer says council systems are robust, overflows will be avoided and the council regularly reviews its processes.
The district council application to the regional council for a 35-year permit to discharge wastewater was notified on June 15 and submissions close on July 12. A hearing on the application will then be held.
It has been criticised by Dunstan ward regional councillor Michael Laws, who said he would be making an opposing submission on the application.
“There is no licence to pollute, but the QLDC are asking for one after being prosecuted for not having their infrastructure up to scratch.
“Every farmer should also oppose on the basis that if they pollute, they get prosecuted.
“The QLDC is asking for an exemption that no-one else enjoys. It is as wrong as wrong gets,” Cr Laws said.
The application says the district council wants permission to discharge untreated wastewater to various freshwater receiving environments including lakes and rivers, and to land, “in circumstances where it may enter water as a result of blockages, breakages, system failures, extreme storm events, and capacity exceedance in the network that cause overflows to the wastewater infrastructure throughout the Queenstown Lakes district”.
The overflows already occurred occasionally and were not currently authorised, the application said.
“To address this, a district-wide resource consent is being sought to authorise these overflows.”
Council senior planing engineer Mark Baker said the application would “absolutely not” amount to a “carte blanche” for allowing discharges, and it was “not intended” that overflows would increase over the next 35 years.
“Council has robust processes to try and avoid overflows, and council regularly reviews those processes.
“It is important to note that, unfortunately, there will always be a risk of overflows, no matter how good our – or anyone’s – system is,” Mr Baker said.
The council also planned to invest $101million in its wastewater networks, he said.
He said overflow events that had the potential to reach water were infrequent and of a short-term nature.
“Large rivers such as the Kawarau and Mata-Au Clutha which flow into Central Otago have large flows and thus a greater capacity for dilution, meaning they are relatively insensitive to wastewater.”
Guardians of Lake Wanaka chairman Dr Don Robertson said the district council’s application provided Queenstown Lakes residents with an opportunity to consider broader issues, as well as the application itself.
“At first glance, this request to allow the spilling of raw sewage into our lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers might seem outrageous. In fact it is.
“But if we look closely, we see that there are many ongoing accidental overflow events resulting from maybe bad planning, bad behaviour or just plain bad luck,” said Dr Robertson, who is also a member of Guardians of Lake Hawea and a trustee of the Upper Clutha Lakes Trust.
“So, as a concerned community, we are faced with a choice .. do we allow inevitable sewage spills to continue as before, or do we use this application for consent as an opportunity to recommend that ORC sets in place a number of strong conditions?”
Other people have also contacted The News to express concern about the district council’s application, but preferred not to be named.