Sewage plans threat to beaches' rating

KIRSTY MCMURRAY
Last updated 05:00 13/11/2012
Opinion poll

Will you be hitting the beach for a swim or surf this summer?

No, not if it means swimming amid disinfected effluent.

Yes, I'm sure it will still be safe.

Vote Result

Surf Life Saving club development officer Andy Cronin stands on Fitzroy beach
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ
QUALITY CONTROL: Surf Life Saving club development officer Andy Cronin stands on Fitzroy beach near where partly treated wastewater will be released into the sea from next Monday.

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LATEST: New Plymouth beaches could be empty this summer if the public reaction to news treated sewage will be piped 450m off a New Plymouth beach is anything to go by.

On Saturday the New Plymouth District Council issued a warning to beachgoers after announcing partially treated sewage will be pumped into the ocean off Waiwhakaiho while one of the treatment plant's two aeration basins is taken out of service for the next four months so it can be cleaned and upgraded.

Within minutes of the news being posted on the Daily News website and Facebook page the public were commenting and voting against the council's decision.

Very few online comments supported the partly treated sewage being discharged into the sea and most people were miffed as to why the dumping is taking place during the busiest time of year at the beach.

"That is disgusting !!! Why do it during summer when they know people will want to go swimming and get seafood," Jess Chapman said.

"Eww, that's disgusting!! Glad we have a swimming pool and don't need to swim in the sea," Carla Siciliano said.

Results from a Daily News Online poll suggest that people will not be heading to the beach for a swim.

Of the 313 voters, 78.6 per cent said they would avoid swimming because of the effluent, while 21.4 per cent said they would still swim.

As well as putting the public off, Fitzroy and East End beaches could lose their Blue Flag accreditation.

Foundation for Environmental Education NZ Blue Flag chairman Rob Acton said if the quality of the water declined the beaches' Blue Flag status could be revoked.

To receive and keep a Blue Flag, a beach must meet strict criteria including the measuring of water quality, the provision of environmental education and information, environmental management, and environmental safety.

From next Monday, half the treated wastewater going into the New Plymouth wastewater plant will be fully treated while the rest will be screened to remove "material" larger than 3 millimetres, disinfected and released through the Waiwhakaiho outfall.

NPDC water and wastes manager Mark Hall said the council was working with Blue Flag and would document in the next Blue Flag application what had happened and make sure the public were aware of the potential impact on bathing.

"If it has a negative effect on the water quality readings then the blue flag would be taken down during this time and information placed on the Blue Flag board to state why the flag has temporarily come down."

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Mr Hall said it was imperative the work was done during the summer while rainfall was low because an aeration basin could treat a maximum of only 440 litres a second.

"If there is a high flow this increases the chances of not being able to treat half the flow."

He said the warning that there would be a higher risk of illness and skin irritation from swimming and gathering shellfish was precautionary.

But Taranaki Regional Council director environment quality Gary Bedford said he did not expect the discharged sewage to have any effect on the quality of beach water.

"The general movement of water on our coast is from Fitzroy past the Waiwakaiho, past the wastewater plant and towards Bell Block, so there's no reason any change should affect Fitzroy or East End."

However, the TRC has added three extra sites near the wastewater treatment plant to its standard summer weekly beach water monitoring programme, which already includes testing at East End and the estuary area of the lower Waiwhakaiho river.

They will be checking for Enterococci bacteria, E. coli and faecal coliforms and if the test exceeds the alert level, it will be retested.

Mr Bedford said the TRC had given consent for the discharge. There had been a hearing but nobody had appealed. The NPDC will be monitoring the effluent discharge three times a week to make sure consent conditions are met.

SILENCE OF SEWAGE IRKS BEACHGOERS

Beach-users are unhappy at the lack of communication from the council over plans to discharge partially-treated sewage into the sea.

Officers from the New Plymouth District Council will today meet surf life saving and boardriders groups to discuss the move.

But Todd Cations-Velvin, president of Fitzroy Surf Lifesaving, said he was not pleased at the lack of communication from the council and was worried for the lifeguards and the public.

"Every Sunday morning at the moment we've got 150 5 to 14-year-olds and their parents and lifeguards down on that beach."

He also said avoiding Fitzroy and East End in favour of a cleaner swim at Back Beach or other unpatrolled beaches could be dangerous.

"It puts people at a higher risk of drowning."

Taranaki Surf Lifesaving Club development officer Andy Cronin said while it was important for the public and lifeguards to be safe and healthy on the beach, he expected the council would have already taken the possible effects into consideration.

"They've got to do it sometime and I guess they'll have good reasons for it."

He said the clubs would publicly display as much water quality information as possible, but there was still plenty of fun to be had at the beach this summer.

New Plymouth Mayor Harry Duynhoven said he understood the thought of effluent, even disinfected, going into the sea could be upsetting, but it had to be done.

"There should be no worry. Generations of people swam at the beaches before we had any treatment of sewage at all."

He said it was a difficult project to manage as the wastewater system could not be shut down while being upgraded.

"It's like doing an engine overhaul while the engine's still running."

The upgrade, as part of the upgrade to the Waitara sewerage system, will eventually mean all of the effluent from the district will be treated to a higher standard, he said. 

- Taranaki Daily News

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