Sniff test 'good enough' for estuary

Last updated 05:00 15/01/2014

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Taranaki's environmental watchdog is standing by its water testing at a well-known summer holiday location, despite not having carried out tests for 10 years.

Tongaporutu local Victor Gibbs says he believes there is a problem with sewage and domestic water seeping into the river from the baches' sewerage systems.

The Taranaki Regional Council admits it has not tested the water quality since 2003/04, but says water quality in the estuary is fine.

Taranaki Regional Council scientific officer James Kitto last tested the water in 2003/04 when Mr Gibbs made a formal complaint.

He found the water quality to be within the acceptable standards of coastal recreational guidelines.

Since then, the TRC has revisited the site every two years for a "look and a sniff" rather than full testing.

He said the cost of testing, about $100, isn't the issue but the time and resources it takes for a staff member to drive out there, meant regular testing wasn't viable.

Under TRC rules, the baches' septic systems evade tough regulations because they come under the more relaxed rules of the coastal plan rules and not those of the freshwater plan.

The entire estuary up to the second bend in the river is considered a coastal area.

In 2006 it was found three baches didn't comply, as they were near a small stream flowing into the main river and therefore were classified as being too near a freshwater stream. They had to get resource consents.

The bach systems have also been deemed as passable because the New Plymouth District Council has flexible regulations governing septic systems, according to the council's team leader of building inspectorate Don Baker.

Pat Greenfield, who has been involved with and photographed the Tongaporutu area for more than 12 years, said in her visits she had not seen any seepage, "but that doesn't mean there's no problem."

The TRC need to be testing at least every three years, she said, because some people may not be emptying their septic tanks.

"They need to prove it one way or another. If the baches are not tested and they find a problem, everyone could be blamed when it could be just one person."

She said they should be testing after storms, when high water levels stir up the river.

The reason the Gibbs family was annoyed, she said, was they knew what it was like before. "But anyway, the baches won't be there for too much longer because they will be swallowed up by rising sea levels."

Bethany Pearson is a Whitireia journalism school student

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