Gwen Francis, 93, fears for future of Buckland's Parker Lane in wastewater plan

Gwen Francis has lived in Parker Lane her whole life and is concerned as Watercare has applied to discharge up to ...
NATALIE POLLEY / STUFF

Gwen Francis has lived in Parker Lane her whole life and is concerned as Watercare has applied to discharge up to 104,800 cubic metres per day of treated wastewater via the Parker Lane stream.

93-year-old Gwen Francis has lived in Buckland's Parker Lane her whole life, but now in her twilight years she fears for the future of her environment.

Watercare has lodged an application with the Waikato Regional Council to discharge up to 104,800 cubic metres per day of treated wastewater to the Parker Lane Stream, from the Pukekohe Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Gwen is worried about the impact this will have on the area that was once a beautiful wetland and said it was her "swan song" to secure the future of the only place she has ever called home.

"I was born up the road and when Mum died the farm was divided up and I got this piece," Gwen said.

"I've lived here since the (Waikato) river was blue and the sand was white - the whole area was a huge, beautiful wetland."

Gwen said the Pukekohe Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), located on Parker Lane, was built in the 1990s.

"The plant was part of our farm and [back then] it was beautiful and blue. We used to catch tadpoles and every evening there would be a chorus of frogs. I don't hear them now and haven't seen one in years.

"Consent had been given at the time to discharge up to 8,450 cubic meters per day of treated effluent through seepage to Parker Lane stream."

Watercare said the new applications sought to increase the volume of wastewater treated and discharged to the Parker Lane Stream and subsequently the Waikato River.

The application seeks to replace existing consents, to discharge treated wastewater to water and land; and contaminants to air from the WWTP.

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This is to account for projected population growth in the area served by the WWTP - which includes Pukekohe, Patumahoe and Buckland in the Auckland region; and Tuakau and Pokeno in the Waikato region. 

Watercare said the upgraded WWTP would improve the level of treated wastewater quality and reduce the loads of contaminants discharged to the Waikato River.

But Gwen is concerned the water will be re-contaminated before it is discharged to the river.

Gwen spoke at a hearing before Waikato Regional Council, held at the Counties Event Centre in Pukekohe, through the week of August 29, where she questioned whether the treated water should go through seepage beds into the Parker Lane stream and onto the river, or whether it should be piped straight to the river from the UV treatment discharge point.

"The Parker Lane stream is tidal and as the tide comes in at Port Waikato, the level in the river rises and water flows backward up the stream towards the treatment plant," she said.

"If the stream is full from rainfall, the water has nowhere else to go but can be stored in the seepage beds. As the tide goes out the re-contaminated water goes back into the stream and back to the river."

Gwen said she was also concerned with the level of  solid "sludge" that would left behind and said Watercare had put sludge under a separate consent. 

She said the first screening of solids took out waste over 3mm, such as condoms, baby wipes - even false teeth.

"At the moment a truckload of this goes to Hampton Downs every seven to 20 days. The wastewater then passes through a series of settling tanks where heavier material sinks to the bottom and the clearer water is siphoned off the top until finally the clear water goes through UV treatment and is discharged.

"If the wastewater were to be treated to drinking standard, 20 to 30 per cent would be left behind as sludge. Even at 10 per cent, that would be at least 10,480 cubic meters per day."

Gwen said that amount wouldn't be immediate, but would rise rapidly.

"With 2000 extra houses and 80 hectares of industrial land proposed just for Pokeno, as well as the growth around Tuakau and Pukekohe, it would rise quickly."

Gwen said she was sick of the farmers being blamed for all the river pollution. She said she wanted her urban counterparts to share in the cost of a better solution.

"Seeing that a good proportion of the pollution of the Waikato River comes from the towns along the river, it seems fair that they should share in the cost of paying for the best possible long-term solution - which is piping straight from the UV treatment to the river."

She said she was concerned for the future inhabitants of the area, including her seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren due to be born next year.

"With the first lot [of waste] we had a mosquito plague, because in its natural state [the wetlands] dried out in summer and we never had mosquito problems. It was only when all that water was lying around in their seepage ponds in summer that we got these mosquito problems," Gwen said.

"It's like the odour...They will give 10 days notice if there will be a massive stink if they are cleaning out the sludge...10 days is not gonna do you much good." 

Gwen said she wasn't criticising Watercare, she just wanted "the best from a bad situation."

"They have got to get rid of the waste, but we just want conditions on it. I would like to see it go straight to the river and not get re-contaminated through those wetlands."

Stuff.co.nz put Gwen's concerns to Watercare, however a spokesperson said they did not wish to comment until the verdict was released to the public.

A Waikato Regional Council spokesperson said the hearing had adjourned, but no decision has been made yet. 

 - Stuff

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