Water News June 2014

Floods push rates rise higher

6 June 2014 – The Press

Christchurch rates may need to go up an extra 1.7 per cent to cover the estimated $5 million cost of cleaning up after the floods. Rates were already forecast to rise by an average of 6.5 per cent from next month, but … may need to go up even higher because of the unforeseen costs associated with this year's adverse weather. Christchurch has been hit by severe flooding on numerous occasions this year, leading to unexpected costs for clean-up and remediation work. Those costs are still being tallied up but staff estimate they could be as high as $5 million. 

Staff had been looking for savings across the organisation but at this late point in the financial year it was unlikely they would be able to find sufficient to cover the additional costs, meaning the money would have to come from rates. 

The council is due to strike next year's rates at the end of this month. Under its draft Annual Plan, the weekly rates bill for the average homeowner in Christchurch was due to jump from $36.38 to $38.74. 

If the rates have to go up by a further 1.7 per cent to cover the flooding costs, the average weekly rates bill would jump to $39.36. 

In a report presented to the finance committee, staff said they had already used a $6m increase in the dividend paid by the council's investment arm, Christchurch City Holdings, to reduce the size of the council's cash operating deficit but it remained an issue. 

The council's operating expenditure for this financial year was expected to be significantly higher than budgeted, mainly because the organisation had spent: 

$9m reorganising the council's building control group in the wake of the consenting crisis. 

$1.4m on earthquake-related rates remissions and legal costs. 

$1m on restructuring the chief executive's office and getting legal advice on the council's earthquake-related insurance claims. 

Yesterday Cr Yani Johanson questioned the $9m that had been spent on re-organising the building control team, saying it was an extraordinary amount, particularly as it was still not meeting agreed levels of service. 

Under those levels of service the council aimed to get 95 per cent of all building consent applications processed within 20 working days. Only about 72 per cent of residential applications are being processed within that timeframe now, and only 38 per cent of commercial applications. 

Council chief financial officer Peter Gudsell acknowledged the building control reorganisation had been costly but said the council had no control over that as it fell under the purview of the government-appointed Crown manager. 

"It seems extraordinary to me we don't have any say," Johanson said

 

Wild storm slams Waikato, Coromandel

11 June 2014 – Waikato Times 

High winds have brought trees down across lines on Powerco's electricity network, causing widespread power cuts. A total of 30,000 customers had lost power. The hardest hit areas were in Coromandel and Thames. Roads into Thames have been cut off because of flooding across the state highway south of the town, and SH25 at Manaia and Hikuaia is also closed. Coromandel had a rainfall of 80-100mm. 

 

Pollution 'double standard'

20 June 2014 – Waikato Times

Any reluctance to prosecute Hamilton City Council for repeated wastewater spills into the Waikato River risks creating the perception of a double standard, rural advocates have warned.

The comments by Waikato Federated Farmers president Chris Lewis came after the city council confirmed up to 800 cubic metres of untreated wastewater was discharged into the Waikato River last week.

The spill came from the Pukete wastewater treatment plant and occurred during two days of heavy rain.

The intense water flow compromised the plant's three inlet screens, causing untreated wastewater to be discharged into the river.

Waikato Regional Council spokesman Stephen Ward said regional council staff were notified of the incident and visited the plant last week.

The regional council had requested a full incident report from city council staff and expected to receive it in one or two weeks.

In 2012, Hamilton City Council was convicted, discharged and ordered to spend $37,500 on river plantings and fencing after discharging 90,000 litres of partially treated sewage into the Waikato River during an incident in July 2011.

That incident was caused by a mechanical failure, alarm settings and an overflow pipe blockage at the treatment plant.

The regional council launched a prosecution and the city council pleaded guilty to a charge of discharging contaminants into the river.

Ward said initial information from the city council suggested the latest incident was primarily the result of the very wet weather.

"We'll be checking all the details to confirm compliance has been achieved with their consents," Ward said.

"As always, the council will be assessing that information and making any subsequent necessary inquiries in a fair and even-handed manner."

But Lewis said repeated spills from the plant pointed to ongoing system failures.

"Farmers abide by tough environmental regulations and all we wish for is a level playing field," he said.

"It's hard to comment on individual cases without knowing the ins and outs. But if the latest spill at the plant is as bad as I've been told then it would be perceived as a double standard by farmers if the regional council decided not to prosecute the city council."

Hamilton City Council's city infrastructure general manager Chris Allen said the treatment plant received 139,800 cubic metres of wastewater during last week's heavy rainfall - the highest volume on record.

The average daily flow is 45,000 cubic metres a day.

"The incident that occurred at the plant last week was unusual and a result of a significant rain event," Allen said.

"Staff responded quickly, implementing contingency measures to minimise the volume of untreated wastewater discharged."

Affected river users were advised.

Allen said there were several programmes under way to protect against wastewater overflow events.

In 2011, a hydraulic failure at the Pukete plant caused up to 4000 cubic metres of untreated wastewater to enter the river.

On that occasion, the regional council opted not to prosecute the city council after concluding a statutory defence under the Resource Management Act was available for the discharge.

The RMA provides statutory defences against prosecution in certain circumstances, such as where a discharge occurs from an unforeseen mechanical failure.

Meanwhile, representatives from Waikato District Council appeared in Hamilton District Court earlier this month after 5000 cubic metres of partially treated sewage overflowed into the Raglan Harbour.

Four council staff have since left the organisation following the spill in June last year. aaron.leaman@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

 

Toxic sludge risk from river dredging

23 June 2014 – Radio New Zealand News

Any moves to dredge Christchurch rivers to prevent further flooding will pose an ecological risk and could stir up 150 years of toxic sludge, a water management specialist says.

There have been repeated calls from the public for authorities to dredge the Avon and Heathcote rivers as a flood protection measure.

However, Professor Jenny Webster-Brown, who is director of the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management at Canterbury University, said those rivers contained areas of sediment which had been building since the city was colonised.

The greatest risk was to the ecology and short-term health of the rivers, she said. There were other unknowns, such as the effect contact with the dredged water would have on people because there was little data on metal contact and human health.

It was important to remember any river dredging would have a direct impact on the ecology of the estuaries, Prof Webster-Brown said.

"Because things that go down a river, particularly sediment, end up in that estuary, they fall out of the water in that estuary, so if you are dredging in the city, there will be an effect on the estuary," she said.

"Sediment that's re-suspended in the water during the dredging process will likely end up in the estuary."

 

Region soaked by winter storm

25 June 2014 - Nelson Mail 

Heavy rain in the region has caused extensive flooding and some road closures. A slip on Rocks Road has reduced the state highway to one lane but both lanes were reopened by 6pm, the New Zealand Transport Agency said. A section of Waimea Rd between Nelson Hospital and Bishopdale has also been reopened as surface flooding around the city recedes. Shops in Victory have been flooded.  Sections of road in the Toi Toi/Victory area that were closed have also reopened.  

Nelson Tasman Civil Defence Emergency Management stood down its Civil Defence Centre at the Victory Community Centre in Totara Street this evening. Following advice from emergency services there is a chance a number of families in the immediate Victory area may have to leave their houses for the short-term until surface flooding recedes. Homes in Murphy St, Nelson were being evacuated at around 3.30pm. Some pupils who lived in parts of Golden Bay where flooding was possible were sent home at lunchtime. Those areas were Kotinga, Onekaka, Rangihaeata, the Pupu Valley and Upper Takaka. 

Substantial rain had fallen, with a deluge of 146mm in six hours up to 1pm in Golden Bay, said Tasman District Council spokesman Chris Choat. Surface flooding had also been reported in Brightwater, Motueka, Mapua, Seaton Valley and the Moutere Highway, and council contractors were out checking the roads, he said. ''We're dealing with a large amount of rain that has fallen on already saturated ground. 

In Brightwater, volunteer firefighters helped move household items in a basement of a home in Lord Rutherford Rd South that flooded with 100mm of water.

 

Healthy rivers group puts gumboots on

25 June 2014 - Waikato Times 

A multi-stakeholder group working on ways to protect the Waikato and Waipa rivers is getting out and about on field trips around the region to help them understand the community's perspectives. 

After its third workshop, the Collaborative Stakeholder Group (CSG), including representatives of local government, farming communities, Maori interests, forestry, environmental groups and general community representatives, reported back to a Regional Council sub-committee meeting yesterday. 

The group visited the dairy farm of Tokoroa's George Moss this month. Moss, who is a representative in the CSG, showed the group how operations on his farm relating to water quality were managed. 

CSG chair Bill Wasley said the group realised there was no "one size fits all" approach for dealing with the impact farming has on water quality. 

"In developing solutions, the group needs to be highly aware of the geographic, as well as the social and cultural diversity in the Waikato and Waipa river catchments. Strong evidence-based science will be required to develop solutions for reducing impacts on water quality." 

Co-chair of the Healthy Rivers Wai Ora Committee, Alan Livingston, said it was good to get updated on the group's activities and that they seemed "well on track"'. 

Having extensive consultation with stakeholder groups at the beginning would avoid litigation at the end of the process, he said. 

The next visit will involve a trip to a King Country marae, gaining insight into the characteristics of the Waipu catchment. 

The CSG is part of The Healthy Rivers Wai Ora Project, put into action in 2012, following a $4.5 million boost in funding from Waikato Regional Council's annual plan. 

The CSG said it had agreed to focus on how to reduce the four main contaminants to waterways - nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment and bacteria - by targeting the adverse effects of discharges in the Waipu and Waikato River catchment. 

The committee will also be recommending that the regional council makes changes to the healthy rivers plan so that it can be measurable. Desired water quality levels, for instance, would be quantifiable and time-frames measured if the changes are made. 

Livingston said that it would need to be flexible, and "provide an acceptable balance between economic[s] and environment". 

He praised the committee for being a new, unique, model - co-governance between councillors and iwi - and said it seemed to be working extremely well. 

"The principle [of co-governance] is excellent." 

 

Debate over Waikato's water is heating up

28 June 2014 – Waikato Times

Several Hamilton city councillors have warned that a move to a business-style of managing water across councils is the first step towards metering and privatising water.

The issue got several Hamilton city councillors fired up at a meeting on Thursday.

Others said they should calm down and wait until they had more information about how the system would work.

In the end, councillors voted 9-3 for staff to look into it through a detailed business case.

A proposal for a council-controlled organisation (CCO) emerged in May, from an independent report commissioned by the Waikato Mayoral Forum.

Hamilton City Council, Waikato District Council and Waipa District Council would have their water and wastewater services managed through the CCO.

But the proposal can't go ahead unless all three councils agree.

The new organisation idea riled councillor Martin Gallagher, who said it was the first stage of the water meter debate and meant less control for council.

"I honestly believe the CCO model takes us down a journey that I think in time we will regret," he said.

"We get two board meetings per annum in public session for an asset that the public of this city and region own already."

And councillor Dave Macpherson said it was a jump too far down the chain too soon.

He also saw the CCO model as a precursor to water metering and privatisation.

"I'd like to see us looking first at how we can improve things in a public service model.

"That should be the first approach," he said.

However, he only found two more supporters for his amendment, which failed to pass.

But deputy mayor Gordon Chesterman said Macpherson was "jumping to conclusions".

"Certainly I feel there are some other options . . . but I think that this [business case] is a good step to take. We don't have to accept the business case," he said.

"I simply want the information on which to base a judgment, a decision that is informed."

And councillors should "calm down" and let the option be investigated or they were shutting the door on possible savings, councillor Angela O'Leary said.

"I think the comments around water meters and privatisation have done our residents a massive disservice," she said.

"I think we need to do our due diligence and just calm down," he said, "and get this next information so we're fully informed then to make the right decision."

Council staff will also consider an "enhanced shared services model" in the business case.

Enhanced shared services could include councils working together under agreements or contracts, advisory boards, or with shared operational staff but without creating a company structure, performance group general manager Blair Bowcott said.

Waipa and Waikato district councils are expected to formally discuss the issue and make their decisions in the coming weeks.

HOW IT WOULD WORK

Across three councils' services:

Hamilton City Council, Waikato District Council and Waipa District Council

Joint council committee appoints directors and monitors performance

Council-controlled organisation (CCO) covers water and wastewater services

Owns the water assets

Is responsible for the water liabilities

Runs like a business

Doesn't pay dividends or surpluses to shareholders

Source: Waikato Water report to Waikato Mayoral Forum, April 2014

 

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