Waimakariri River smells of 'rotten poo'

05:00, Mar 14 2014
Fishing at the Waimakariri river mouth
FISHERS: The Waimakariri river mouth near Pines Beach

An Olympic-swimming pool sized amount of effluent has been poured into the Waimakariri River today.

Silver Fern Farms (SFF) was forced to close its Belfast plant because its trade waste could not be accepted by the Christchurch City Council's Bromley treatment plant due to last week's flooding.

About 230 staff were told not to come into work as the business could not process any more, and storage was at maximum capacity.

However, for six hours this morning SFF discharged about 2500 cubic metres into the Waimakariri River.

The move has outraged environmentalists and fishermen, with one describing the river as smelling like ''rotten poos''.

However, Environment Canterbury regional manager RMA monitoring compliance Marty Mortiaux said legally SSF could discharge the waste.


''It's not ideal,'' he said. ''But, the current situation is not normal so they have to make do with what they can . . . in the circumstances they have no option.''

He said so far there were no reports of odour, frothing or discolouration by staff.

''It went about as well as we could have hoped for,'' Mortiaux said.

He said it would have a ''minimal impact'' on the river itself.

''We are working very closely with them and they have given us every assurance they will manage the number of discharges and make sure the quality is the best it can be.''

SFF chief executive Keith Cooper said they had been reluctant to discharge to the river, but there was no better alternative.

He said with the heavy rain forecast this weekend there was a risk of the full storage ponds flooding. Likewise, as pumping had not been occurring the storage ponds might turn anaerobic which had the potential to create an odour issue.

''We are also considering the needs of our production staff who are currently facing a loss of income during the peak of their processing season. We also need to be sensitive to our farmers' needs to process livestock as feed gets short.''

Fish & Game North Canterbury manager Rod Cullinane was ''absolutely furious'' about the discharge.

''They just have to like it or lump. They can't continue to discharge into the Waimakariri and soil it right smack in the middle of the salmon fishing season.''

He said fish could die depending on the toxicity of the discharges and it potentially adversely affected the water quality.

''It's totally unacceptable.''

Salmon angler Ron Stuart said it was ''putrid'' at the river mouth this morning. ''It really stunk and there was absolutely no warning.''

The angler was concerned about the health effects it would have with the river a popular spot for recreation users.

''I was standing next to a chap and I was getting the spray off his line onto my face. I was thinking 'I'm taking in this polluted water'.''

Cooper said they were allowed to discharge 20,000 cubic metres, but discharged about 2500 cubic metres - about one days' processing capacity -  this morning.

It discharged about 800 cubic metres to the city network on Wednesday night before it was shut down again.

Any further discharges into the city's network was contingent on the volume the earthquake-damaged pipes could take without putting the infrastructure under stress.

This would be assessed daily, he said.

''Any discharges to the river will be managed around discharge on the outgoing tide and at times when recreational use of the river may be low.''

The Belfast plant started operating again this morning and farmers had been sending in stock for processing.

Christchurch City Council water and waste manager Mark Christison said there were no problems with the Bromley Wastewater Treatment Plant, but the floods had caused an increase in what was going through them.

He said the council had negotiated with Silver Fern Farms when it obtained its discharge consent for the business to hold trade waste instead of pump it when it was deemed necessary, such as during floods.

''Even under normal conditions they cannot discharge at peak times,'' he said. ''We want to be able to take their waste as soon as we can.''

Once the flows dropped, Silver Fern Farms would be allowed to discharge trade waste again.

Weekend discharges are likely to occur about 7pm tonight, and at 5am and 5.30pm tomorrow.

The Press