Raw sewage dumped off Whanganui beach by council in consent breach

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Raw sewage riddled with faecal bacteria was discharged into the sea off a Whanganui beach multiple times last year.

South Beach, Whanganui

South Beach, Whanganui. Photo: Visit Whanganui

Whanganui District Council dumped the sewage off South Beach at least three times in 2020 despite it being a clear breach of its resource consent.

Furthermore, while the breaches were not reported to Horizons Regional Council, which is responsible for monitoring what is discharged from the wastewater treatment plant, the district council is unlikely to face any consequences.

On one occasion enterococci levels – which indicate the presence of fecal material in water – were eight times the allowed amount.

On 6 January 2020 the council recorded an enterococci count of 830 cfu/100mL at the outfall pipe off South Beach.

Cfu – which stands for ‘colony forming units’ – is a measure that indicates the level of bacteria in the water.

The council’s discharge consent says the count must not exceed 103 cfu/100mL.

Further breaches were recorded on 17 February and 9 March. None coincided with heavy rainfall, which can overwhelm the city’s storm water system resulting in untreated sewage being discharged out to sea.

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The breaches are detailed in the report Whanganui District Council must file each year with Horizons detailing how it complied with its consent.

The latest report, received by Horizons last month, covers the period between 1 July, 2019 to 31 June, 2020.

The report noted the city’s wastewater treatment plant was adversely affected by high levels of chromium unlawfully discharged into the plant by company Tasman Tanning.

It is unclear if this caused the high enterococci levels in January, February and March 2020.

When discharged into the waste water treatment plant, the toxic heavy metal stops good bacteria in the plant from breaking down bad bugs.

This meant effluent containing high levels of faecal material was discharged out to sea.

The report did not say how many times this had happened.

According to its consent, the district council must tell Horizons about any breach within 10 days of it happening.

But the council did not tell Horizons about any of the breaches within this timeframe.

Horizons tests Whanganui’s wastewater only once a year, so relies on the district council to monitor the quality of the effluent being discharged itself.

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Despite this, the council was “unlikely” to face any penalty, Horizons said in a statement.

“By not notifying Horizons, WDC will be non-complied in the annual compliance assessment report that will be put together in the near future.

“In this instance it is unlikely that further enforcement action will be taken over this singular condition non-compliance, however once the report is completed this and any other non-compliances will be considered. Recommendations will be provided and potential enforcement action may be undertaken as a result,” said Horizons Regional Council’s team leader consent monitoring Pita Kinaston.

A Whanganui District Council spokesperson said it would not be able to respond to questions about why it had not notified Horizons about any of the breaches, until the responsible staff member returned from leave next week.

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