Tests on river set for release

The results of a summer of water quality tests to show whether or how badly Palmerston North City Council's wastewater discharge is polluting the Manawatu River will be revealed next week.

The testing has been designed to understand the impact the discharge from the Totara Rd treatment plant is having on the health of the river.

Horizons Regional Council and the city council joined forces in the investigation late last year to understand what it was about the discharge that appeared to be causing harm, with a view to fixing it.

Horizons issued an assessment in June 2011 that claimed the discharge from Totara Rd was having a significant adverse effect on aquatic life downstream, which was a breach of the city council's resource consent.

The city council disputed the assessment and sought further talks with the regional council to understand how the wastewater, which was meeting other conditions at its discharge point, could be damaging the river. But in October, Horizons issued an abatement notice requiring the city council to stop the harmful effects of the discharge by the end of the year.

City council chief executive Paddy Clifford described the order as a "$600,000 sword of Damocles", referring to the maximum penalty a failure to comply could carry.

He said it was "defective and unreasonable", and impossible to comply with. Until the city understood what, if anything, was wrong with the discharge, it did not know how to fix it, he said.

The city council appealed the abatement notice, and Horizons withdrew the threat in November.

The two councils then entered a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to a programme of water quality tests over the summer months of low flows when issues of algal growth harming the habitat of pollution-sensitive water creatures were most apparent.

The peer-reviewed results of those tests are now in, providing information about the extent of the problem.

They will be presented by those involved in the monitoring programme to a public meeting at the Palmerston North Convention Centre on Wednesday at 5.30pm.

The public release of the findings precedes meetings to be held by both councils the following week, at which councillors will start to discuss the implications and work out what needs to happen next.

The Manawatu Standard