Queenstown’s council faces poo penalties

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Queenstown’s council faces enforcement action over sewer discharges into the Shotover River.

The Otago Regional Council confirms it’s likely to take action over the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s multiple resource consent breaches over contaminant levels in the river.

ORC policy and resource planning director Fraser McRae says discussions right now are between the councils’ chief executives, ORC’s Peter Bodeker and QLDC’s Adam Feeley.

“Enforcement action’s likely to take place,” McRae says.

“The form that would take is up for debate.”

McRae says his council prosecutes farmers for breaching their discharge consents.

Therefore it was duty-bound to treat Queenstown’s council the same way, otherwise “why would anybody obey the rules?”

Feeley confirms the high-level talks with his ORC opposite.

“The discussions also include those best placed to discuss it ­– the engineering team and our contractors, Veolia.

“It would not be appropriate to comment on discussions that are ongoing, but we are comfortable that we have taken numerous steps to address wastewater discharges over the past few months, and are no less determined than the ORC to manage this issue with the priority it deserves.”

As reported in last week’s Mountain Scene, Feeley says his council’s backed away from further delays to the much needed $36 million Project Shotover upgrade for the sewer system.

Perhaps there’s now a clearer idea of why.

The sewerage system – which treats waste water from Frankton, Queenstown, Arrowtown, Lake Hayes and Arthurs Point – breached consent limits for various contaminants 175 times between July 2011 and September this year.

McRae says contaminants can cause health issues for swimmers and problems with algal blooms.

However, he does not know of any long-term problems with the fast-flowing Shotover River.

The main short-term issue with sewer overflows is a visual one.

“The visual effects are very in your face and up-front and it might be an affront to your morality.”

Only last week, ORC pronounced its disappointment at catching three Clutha district dairy farmers for breaching water quality rules.

The Resource Management Act says organisations can be slapped with fines of up to $600,000 for breaches, if they’re convicted.

In July of this year, the Waikato Regional Council fined the Waikato District Council $56,250 for discharging five million litres of partially treated sewage into Raglan Harbour in June 2013.

Christchurch City Council spent $87m building a pipe which pumps its treated waste water three kilometres out to sea.

Water quality is a hot national issue, with the government taking flak from the Green Party for its “weak” national standards for water quality.

david@scene.co.nz