Manawatu River pollution blamed on council

The Manawatu River is becoming more polluted, and Horizons Regional Council is pointing the finger of blame at Palmerston North City Council.

There have been "considerable" and "sustained" breaches of one of its discharge consents, and some degree of non-compliance with two others, says Horizons regional planning and regulatory group manager Greg Carlyon.

But a call for city councillors to be briefed about what was going wrong at the city's sewage treatment plant was shut down at the city council's planning and policy committee meeting yesterday.

City councillor Chris Teo-Sherrell said Horizons' report on water quality failures to be discussed by regional councillors tomorrow contradicted assurances city councillors had been given that all was well.

"I want to be told why we have been assured there have been no major breaches, when there is a report telling us there have been consistent breaches."

The Horizons report, to be discussed at its environment committee meeting, says the city's discharges involving high E. coli and phosphorous levels are causing a significant increase in algal growth on the riverbed, a drop in numbers of pollution-sensitive mayflies, and less food for fish.

But acting city manager Ray Swadel challenged the assertion that council staff had failed to tell councillors about consent breaches.

He said council staff were surprised to hear from Horizons that a non-complying assessment had been received, but he disputed it, and officers of both councils had met to try to reach an understanding of why the results had come up short.

"I have never misled the council on this matter," he said.

"Leading up to this latest assessment we have always been compliant, from Horizons' own assessments."

Palmerston North City Council planning and policy committee chairwoman Annette Nixon ruled the planning and policy committee had no power to discuss the issue further, despite Cr Teo-Sherrell's objection.

Mr Carlyon's report said meetings between staff of both councils had resolved any uncertainty remaining about the validity of Horizons' measuring, and Horizons was standing firm.

"There is a significant impact on the Manawatu River as a result of PNCC's discharge, notwithstanding the high level of resourcing for upgrades of the PNCC system."

The city council has spent millions of dollars on plant to remove phosphorous from its discharge, and spends $400,000 a year on the process.

Mr Carlyon said as a party to the Manawatu River Accord, the city council had made a commitment to comply with its resource consents all of the time. But he acknowledged the management of the plant was complex, and changes could not be made in haste given the likely costs of improvements.

He has proposed setting up a joint working party to find solutions so pollution does not become worse over summer.

Manawatu Standard