A recommendation to decline a Queenstown Lakes District Council application for a district-wide wastewaster discharge consent doesn’t engage with reality, a hearing’s been told.
Counsel Janette Campbell told Otago Regional Council commissioners such a consent is the “responsible and transparent option” for managing overflows, and will give the regional council a greater level of scrutiny than it has now.
Overflows are inevitable, unpredictable and already occurring, and aren’t caused by a lack of capacity, Campbell says.
The district council has an “ambitious” 10-year programme of investment to improve the network’s resilience, and is proposing an ongoing public awareness programme to prevent blockages from entering it in the first place.
The regional council officers’ report has overstated the proposal’s potential adverse effects on the environment, focusing on a “worst-case scenario of a large volume overflow”, she says.
The district council’s applied for a 35-year permit allowing the discharge of wastewater overflows from its network to freshwater receiving environments, or on to land in circumstances where it may enter freshwater, as a result of blockages, breakages, system failures, extreme storm events or exceeding capacity.
A total of 200 submissions were received on the application, of which 197 are opposed.
More than 30 submitters intend to speak at the four-day hearing, which began in Queenstown on Monday.
In response to a question from panel chairman Rob Lieffering, the regional council’s principal consents officer, Peter Christophers, said it’s almost impossible to assess the effects of overflow discharges given the randomness and unpredictability of their timing, location and volume.
When asked why the panel shouldn’t grant a consent with conditions incentivising best practice, Mr Christophers replied: “you don’t need a resource consent to upgrade a wastewater system”.
If the consent be granted, it’s likely to be the most generic of its kind in New Zealand for an entire wastewater network.
As a result, other territorial authorities will be watching the outcome closely.