Sewerage schemes work to the high standard

Last updated 08:29 14/02/2013

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OPINION: When the toilet was invented it was one of the most innovative creations of the century, writes Frana Cardno in Southern Focus.

When I have read about early London, the sewage was being tipped out on to the streets and today this would give us a feeling of revulsion.

Even in my lifetime the toilet has changed dramatically. When I first moved onto a farm in mid-Canterbury we had the outhouse down the path and ours was actually quite flash, with a little seat as well as a large one. Being just a little girl I thought that was pretty special. There were also a po in the cabinet by the bed. My dad's job was to discreetly empty these buckets at night - Yuck! When we first had a flush toilet in our house I was quite frightened of it.

As I have travelled throughout Asia, the toilet experience is quite different and daunting and I guess they would have a similar experience visiting here. While I was in China as a guest at the World Heritage Conference I had a room with three toilets. They had so many gadgets on them I was not game enough to press the buttons. I had a beautiful lake view out of my window and at night time it was lit up by lanterns. However, being in local government, I did wonder where the waste went.

While there, I had the opposite experience to the luxury toilets in my hotel room - a hole in the ground with low brush fences and no water.

I must admit I did not enjoy that experience.

There is also the name issue. For example, in America, it is considered rude to ask for a toilet; you must say bathroom instead. My children instructed me on this.

Now we have high standards for waste disposal and this comes at a huge cost - one the government does not assist with any more. In the past, there were water and sewerage scheme subsidies, but those have now been cut. This makes it extremely difficult to keep up with the changing standards for these schemes for our small communities, who do not have a ratepayer base big enough to cover the costs.

Southland District Council has 18 sewerage schemes, serving populations from less than 30 to more than 2000. We spend more than $1.5 million a year operating and maintaining these schemes and we intend to spend $38 million over the next 10 years on improvements.

Resource consents require us to monitor pollutants that can harm the environment, as well as provide Environment Southland with other information and reports; such as the flow to a plant or a report on the performance. If data gets missed or is supplied late this is seen by Environment Southland as a non-compliance. Minor ones, but they are still recorded as non-compliances and this is the reason why a number of our schemes were deemed to be non-compliant. We supply thousands of data items to Environment Southland as part of our monitoring.

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Sewerage schemes are a great asset to any community, as they protect both the community's public health and the environment, and we are confident they are performing better than the Environment Southland report suggests. However, where we know we have issues with compliance we have specific projects in the Long Term Plan to address these.

And as an aside, our total effluent is equivalent to 3000 cows. So we are very minor on the Southland scale of things.

On another issue, we have a busy year ahead with Local Government Commission hearings on our representation review, annual plans and reports, the proposed district plan, local body elections and much more.

Local government, like everything else, is always changing.

We will be considering and debating many topics, and one of those will be amalgamation. I believe we have to take this seriously and so does the council.

The question is what would work the best for Southlanders. It could be one unitary rural council and one unitary urban council - not that we don't work well with the city council, it is just that we have different priorities and issues. The way the local government legislation is written, and with our rural population, means that one authority for Southland would have a council strongly weighted to representatives from Invercargill. This could significantly dilute important rural issues.

Our large roading network and many small communities already makes us the largest authority in size in New Zealand and it is important not to lose the local in local government.

» Frana Cardno is the Southland District mayor.

- The Southland Times

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