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Questions and answers

Got a question about Nature Calls? Check this page for an answer.

We've grouped the questions we anticipate you might ask into four broad categories. If your question isn't answered here or you'd simply prefer to speak to a person, please email our project team at naturecalls@pncc.govt.nz and someone will be in touch.

We'll also be running public meetings and drop-in sessions which will provide another opportunity for you to ask any questions you might have. 

The project 

What is Nature Calls? 

Nature Calls is our name for the project which will determine the best practicable option for managing, treating and discharging wastewater in the future. Our resource consent is ending soon, and we need to apply for a new one by June 2022. Nature Calls covers the project from initial investigations in 2017, all the way through to when we have a new consent.  

Why do we have to get another resource consent? 

We’re legally required under the Resource Management Act to have a resource consent for how we manage, treat and discharge wastewater. Consents can last for up to 35 years, and ours is expiring soon. We need to apply for a new consent well in advance of when our current one ends.  

Why can’t we just apply to keep doing what we’re doing at the moment? 

At the moment we treat wastewater at our Tōtara Road Treatment Plant for around four days before it is discharged to the Manawatū River. We received our consent in 2003 and over time laws and regulations have changed regarding the treatment and discharge of water. A review of the original consent occurred in 2013 and we were required to re-consent our discharge by 2022, instead of 2028 that was originally agreed.  Our values and beliefs, especially about the environment, may also have changed in that time. We do a good job of managing and treating wastewater, but those changes to law mean our current process wouldn’t meet the new requirements.

Option 1 is most similar to what we currently do. 

What are we doing at the moment? 

Learn more about how we currently treat and discharge wastewater.

Who decides what the best option is? 

This project involves a large amount of engagement and consultation with a wide variety of communities, residents, businesses, iwi and other stakeholders. In late 2020, we will take your feedback as well as technical investigations, affordability considerations, environmental impacts and a range of other material to Council as we recommend a best practicable option for the future treatment and discharge of the city’s wastewater.  

When will we know what the decision is? 

We’ll be keeping you updated throughout this project. We will give you an indication of which option the public favoured during consultation, and what councillors choose in late 2020. We will also keep you informed of the resource consent application. Updates will be released at naturecalls.nz and Council’s Facebook page.

I don’t own a house, does that mean I still get a say? 

Of course. While ratepayers will pay for the outcome, we want everyone in our city to have a say. The option selected could last for 35 years and that means that if you buy a house in Palmerston North down the line, the cost will be built into your rates. Living in our region means you may also have feelings about some of the discharge locations. 

How long will the consent last for? 

That’s yet to be decided. Consents can last for up to 35 years. We will propose a timeframe in our resource consent and then Horizons Regional Council will make the final call when the consent is granted on this term. 

When will we have our new option and be using it? 

It’s likely to be some time away. Once the consent has been approved by Horizons and the Council, the new solution could take up to five years to be built and operational. Regardless of the option chosen, upgrades will be needed to the treatment plant and new infrastructure built. This is being included as part of the final solution. 

Where can I find out more? 

You’re at the right place! Naturecalls.nz is the hub for everything to do with this consultation. 

What do iwi want? 

We’ve worked closely with our mana whenua, Rangitāne, on these options. In the consultation material you can see what they think about the discharge location. Many of the options require significant amounts of land. That means we will likely be looking outside of our council boundaries for locations. We expect these will be in Horowhenua and Manawatū Districts. We will be engaging with iwi in those areas during consultation.  

The Resource Management Act requires local authorities to consult local tangata whenua, through iwi authorities. In our consent application we must summarise advice reviewed from iwi authorities, and how our proposal responds to their advice.  

If I care about cost, but also the environment, how do I choose an option? 

We know that can be a tough call. That’s one of the reasons we’ve asked you to rank your preferred options. Let us know your reasons in your submission. These will be collated and used as examples throughout the process.  

What’s the purpose of engaging with the community? 

We’re legally required to engage with our community as part of the Resource Management Act process. But even if we weren’t, we’d still do it. Managing our wastewater is a core part of our day-to-day life and we all want it to work as smoothly as possible. This is the biggest environmental and financial decision our city will make in the coming years and for us to make the most informed decision we need your feedback. Please make a submission and come to public meetings. Make sure your voice is heard. 

What’s the process for consultation? 

There’s likely to be two stages of consultation. Our current one, and there’s a good chance Horizons Regional Council will ask for submissions if it chooses to publicly notify our consent application.  

Our consultation focuses on getting your feedback on options. That will help us narrow the six options down to a few to focus on more closely, and get more scientific, technical and financial work done.  

We want you to have your say. Fill out a submission form at libraries, our customer service centre or online at naturecalls.nz

How does the government’s three waters review affect this? 

While central government is working with councils to decide on the future framework for three waters, this Council needs to progress with the best practicable option process. This is because a consent is legally required under the Resource Management Act and without it, the Council could face enforcement action by Horizons Regional Council. 

How does Horizons’ One Plan, and any changes to it, affect this? 

Under the Resource Management Act, the resource consent application for the future wastewater BPO is made under the regional council’s One Plan.  The preferred option will be assessed under the relevant objectives, policies and rules of the One Plan as part of the resource consent application. From time to time Horizons makes changes to the One Plan and Palmerston North City Council is working with the regional council to submit on plan changes when necessary.  

The options 

How did you come up with the options? 

For more than two years now we’ve spent a lot of time engaging experts, and local mana whenua, Rangitāne, to determine how we might best manage, treat and discharge wastewater. Initially we identified 36 different options. A robust assessment and testing process considered the impact options may have on the natural environment, public health, Māori cultural values, social and community considerations, financial implications, resilience, technology, and the ability for the city to grow and develop. We were then able to remove many of the options as they had a fatal flaw which would have prevented us getting a resource consent or been cost prohibitive. 

In June 2019, Council agreed on a shortlist of six options to continue to investigate. They’re the six options we’re asking you to have your say on. We believe all six of these options could get resource consent.

 Does the Council have a preferred option? 

No. This project, and your feedback, will help us find the best practicable option for dealing with wastewater – one that’s sustainable, practical and affordable.  

If we choose an option, is that the one Council will apply for consent for? 

Not necessarily. Your feedback is so important and will play a major role in any decision Council makes. In late 2020, we will take your feedback as well as findings from technical investigations, assessment of affordability and environmental impacts as well as a range of other material to Council to determine what is the best option to proceed with. 

What happens if the public like a couple of options equally?  

That’s fine. One of the points of consulting is to get a better idea of what our residents want. Ideally this will narrow it down to two or three main options that we can investigate further. In late 2020, we will take your feedback as well as technical investigations, affordability, environmental impacts and a range of other material to Council to determine what is the best option to proceed with. 

Where would the land discharge take place? 

The average Palmerston North resident creates 210 litres of wastewater a day, so the amount of wastewater we need to treat and discharge is large.  

The problem is, we don’t have the amount of land we’d need for this within our Council boundaries. That means we have to look to neighbouring areas. Ideally for the good draining soils we need, land should be close to rivers or the ocean.

Through computer analysis we’ve identified some locations which have the right soil types in Horowhenua and Manawatū districts. We have not done any field work or testing to prove they’d be suitable, and that is why we are not identifying them during this consultation. Once we know what option the public is leaning towards, we will then conduct soil tests and talk to landowners. 

It doesn’t seem fair that we’d send our wastewater to another district. Are you sure we can’t discharge it in Palmy? 

You’re right, it doesn’t seem fair. Unfortunately, due to the size of our district, we just don’t have enough land for the amount of treated wastewater we need to discharge. 

If a land discharge is chosen as the best option, we’d adhere to bylaws and regulations in other districts as well as what is required in our resource consent from Horizons. 

If it’s going on land will it still be treated?  

Absolutely. This is vital for public health and environmental reasons. The level of treatment may differ slightly depending on where the final discharge location is.  For example, river discharges require greater phosphorus and nitrogen removal because they can impact water quality and freshwater species. As we get closer to a best practicable option, we will also be working on the level of treatment required. 

If it’s going on land what happens with it? Does it just soak into the soil? 

Yes, it slowly soaks into the soil. Some cities grow things on the land they use, for example ‘cut and carry’ or forestry, where grass or trees are grown, cut, and then sold. That’s something we are considering if a land discharge option is selected.

How does it go on the land? Is it sprayed? 

Yes, we would use centre-pivot irrigators which you may have seen being used on farms in the region. If we are irrigating forestry we would use fixed sprinklers which would be removed before harvesting the trees. Both systems apply wastewater on to the ground at rates the soils can absorb without runoff.

Is it bad to spray the land? 

We have very strict rules and regulations about the discharge of treated wastewater to ensure it is done safely. Discharge to land is a common chosen option for wastewater systems. If a land-based discharge is selected, buffer areas will be put in place to ensure any spray wouldn’t reach residential homes, food-producing land, and water supplies, for example.  

How would we get the land we need? 

Different options require different amounts of land. While we have identified some possible locations, we haven’t done any field work or testing to prove they’d be suitable, and that is why we are not identifying them during this consultation. Once we know what option the public is leaning towards, we will then identify potential sites so we can talk to landowners and conduct soil testing. 

We would hope to purchase or lease land from the owners. The last resort is that we could use the Public Works Act to acquire it. That’s not something we’d want to do, and we’d try and do everything else possible before getting to that stage.  

If we stick with the option most similar to what we do now, why does it still cost so much? 

Managing, treating and discharging wastewater is an expensive process for councils. We received our consent in 2006 and over time laws and regulations have changed.  Our values and beliefs, especially about the environment, have also changed in that time. While we currently do a good job of managing and treating wastewater, the changes to the laws and regulations mean our current process wouldn’t meet the new requirements under One Plan.

Option 1 is most similar to our current treatment and discharge, but with significantly improved treatment processes that focus on the removal of phosphorous and nitrogen. This would require significant upgrades to our current treatment plant, which is getting old and requires a range of critical upgrades and renewals.

What is groundwater? 

Groundwater is water held underground in the soil or in crevices in rock. Under option 5, treated wastewater would be discharged by high rate infiltration in specially designed infiltration basins or trenches located on highly porous soils. 

The permeable nature of the basin or trenches and the soil mean the treated wastewater can quickly drain to the groundwater without causing surface ponding or flooding. The groundwater under the rapid infiltration areas is relatively shallow and will likely be closely connected to nearby streams and rivers, meaning  wastewater will reach the streams or rivers  in a matter of days.

How would you discharge it to the ocean? 

The ocean is the most common receiving environment for discharges of wastewater in New Zealand. Under option 6, which provides for ocean discharge, we’d install pipes from our treatment plant to the discharge location within the sea.

To construct the ocean section of the discharge pipeline, two boats pull sections of pipe out to sea filled with air so they float. The pipe sections are then connected together to form a 2km long pipeline out from the coast. Once in place the air is removed and the pipe sinks to the ocean floor. A special diffuser is fitted to the end of the pipeline. Wastewater is then pumped out of this pipe and disperses within the surrounding seawater.  

Where is the ocean discharge? I wouldn’t want to swim or fish near there. 

We haven’t chosen a location yet, as any location would be determined during further investigations. However, it would be off the Horowhenua-Manawatū coast into the South Taranaki Bight.  

Ocean discharges are the most common discharge solution in New Zealand. If this option is preferred by the public we would conduct thorough investigations to clearly understand the environmental, economic, social, cultural, and recreational impacts. 

Do we have to treat to as high a standard if we discharge to land? 

All our wastewater will be treated to a very high environmental and public health standard. Typically wastewater going into rivers and groundwater is treated to a higher standard than wastewater applied to land. This is due to the ability of land to remove and further treat the wastewater, as well as the greater sensitivity of the other receiving environments.  

Why don’t we get a say on the other options? 

The six options we’ve shortlisted have been chosen because we believe they are all consentable and have fewer constraints that the other options. Options were eliminated either because they were considered cost prohibitive, not technologically feasible, or were not able to meet the required environmental or legislative standards.  

What is a wetland? 

Wetlands are like a kidney in that they help to filter out any remaining nutrients we wouldn’t want discharged to our river. We’re currently investigating what type and size of wetland we’d need for the various options involving a river discharge. 

Planting is a critical element of a wetland and we will work with stakeholders and technical specialists to determine what the wetland may look like in the future. Wetlands also require significant maintenance once constructed. 

What is a land passage? 

A land passage provides an opportunity for treated wastewater to travel over land before entering our awa. There are many ways to construct a land passage, including building a concrete-type structure for it to flow through, or a more natural passage over rock and plants.  

What are the main differences between the options? 

The main differences between the options are the discharge or receiving environments. Read the option descriptions and the other supporting information to decide which one you consider to be most appropriate. 

The cost 

How much is it going to cost? 

Each option description explains the estimated costs associated, and what the potential rates impact could be.  

How much will my rates go up? 

The diagram on our cost page shows you the potential rates impact of each option. We understand cost is a major factor for many people, but please read the option descriptions to read about how the discharge would occur and the wider benefits, rather than choosing an option on cost alone.  

Why does it cost so much? 

Managing, treating and discharging wastewater is an expensive process for councils. We received our current consent in 2006 and over time laws and regulations have changed. Our values and beliefs, especially about the environment, have also changed in that time.

The costs include constructing new infrastructure and purchasing equipment, as well as operating and maintenance costs for up to 35 years.  

Are these numbers accurate -  how have you come up with them? 

The costs we have indicated for each option were developed with technical and financial advice from our experts. Council finance staff have used these costs to determine the potential rates impacts.  

I struggle to make ends meet now. I cannot afford for my rates to go up this much. 

We know that the amount of money involved here will shock people. Improving our wastewater management and infrastructure won’t be cheap. We’re looking at how we can minimise the cost to ratepayers. We are having discussions with government and industry, and those conversations will continue as we get closer to choosing an option. 

Why can’t we team up with another region to make it cheaper? 

We have discussed this with other neighbouring councils, however each authority’s consents are expiring at different times. This does not exclude us from pursuing a regional scheme in the future though. 

Are the costs just for discharging the wastewater or do they include the costs of building the facilities and infrastructure? 

The costs are an estimate of all the costs associated with setting up, operating and maintaining the treatment and discharge of wastewater. 

Do the costs include the potential cost of land? 

Yes, the estimated costs include the cost of land purchase. 

Is this just the cost to get up and running or is this what it will cost me every year? 

We’ve provided an estimate of what we think this will cost us over the duration of the resource consent (up to 35 years).  

Can we get funding for this? 

We’re looking at how we can minimise the cost to ratepayers. We are having discussions with government and industry, and those conversations will continue as we get closer to choosing an option. 

Why can’t you find a cheaper option?  

While there may be cheaper options, it’s unlikely they’d meet the threshold for getting resource consents due to the lower level of treatment they would achieve and/or the negative impact of the discharge on the receiving environment. We’ve shortlisted six options that we believe will all obtain resource consent.  

If I’m on a septic tank, will I have to pay for this?  

At this stage, it is the existing connected population and any future growth areas that will be serviced by the wastewater network that will have to pay -  ie, if you pay a wastewater charge now, you will continue to in the future, at the adjusted rate. 

Why are we doing this now?

In 2012, the consent granted in 2006 was reviewed due to the level of algal growth occurring in the Manawatū River. This review confirmed that the effect of the discharge on the Manawatū River was compromising the health of the river and change needed to occur. PNCC and Horizons agreed that the Council would undertake a best practicable option review and apply for new consents by June 2022, bringing forward the consent expiry date by six years from 2028.

Why do we have to treat wastewater? 

Wastewater contains bacteria, pathogens and nutrients. Some of these things could make us sick or could have negative effects on our environment. Treating wastewater protects public health and minimises environmental impact.  

Are other iwi involved? 

We’ve been working closely with Rangitāne, as they are the mana whenua in Palmerston North. We are now consulting with iwi in Horowhenua and Manawatū.  

The consultation 

Do I have to make a submission? 

No. But, this is one of the biggest decisions our city needs to make. Making sure everyone has their say allows us to make the most informed decision.  

I don’t live in Palmy, do I still get a say? 

Any person, business or organisation can give feedback, regardless of where you live. 

I don’t own a house, can I still make a submission? 

Absolutely. Just because you don’t own a house doesn’t mean you don’t have a say. A consent could last for 35 years, and in that time you may be a homeowner. We also can’t rule out that landlords could pass on costs to tenants. Even if the cost doesn’t impact you, you might want to have a say on where wastewater is discharged to. 

Why is consultation for only a month? 

We’re on tight timeframes to get our resource consent application in. Once we get your feedback, we’ll collate it and put it together with a wide variety of other information to present to Council in December 2020. The consultation has been extended by 10 days, to 5pm on Friday 10 July.

If I make a submission online, and in person, in print, and on Facebook, does that mean I have four submissions or one? 

We would really appreciate it if you can stick to making one submission via any of the different channels as each submission is valued as one submission. 

Is there an age limit to submissions? 

This decision impacts on the community now and into the future, so there is no age limit to making a submission.   

Why are you consulting with other regions? 

If an option with land, groundwater or ocean discharge is considered, we’d likely need to do this outside of our Council boundaries due to the size of land required. We think it’s the right thing to do to talk to those communities as well.  

Why haven’t we heard about this before now? 

This project has been underway since 2017 and has been a topic in Council meetings. Media have reported on it, as well as there being website and social media information. It has also been flagged in rates newsletters, annual budgets and the 10 Year plan. Even if you haven’t heard of the project before, it’s important that you have your say now.  

What happens once there is an option?  

Once Council selects an option late in 2020, we will spend up to 18 months developing the resource consent application. This will require a lot more investigation into the treatment and discharge methods. In mid 2020 we will submit our application to Horizons Regional Council to consider.  

What happens if we choose an option but it doesn’t end being viable? 

The process we are following is aimed at identifying the best practicable option which does not mean it is the best technical or the best solution for the environment. All of the options that have been chosen are considered viable provided the community considers it can afford the cost. It will be up to Council to balance the various factors in making a choice. The application for consent will describe this process and ensure any consent granted can be implemented and will meet the agreed standard.  

What If the regional council (Horizons) rejects our application? 

We don’t expect our application to be rejected as our application will be made with a complete assessment of environmental effects, as required under the Resource Management Act.    

Once Horizons has processed the application, it may decide to decline our application if it is not considered the best practicable option. If this happens, Council has the opportunity to appeal the decision, which means the application will then be assessed in the Environment Court. 

Can I make a submission as both a resident and a business owner? 

Yes, you make a submission as a business owner and a resident. 

When do we discharge wastewater to the river now? 

We currently discharge to the Manawatū River 100% of the time.  After being treated at Tōtara Road wastewater treatment plant, the discharge enters a wetland before discharging to the river.  

The options talk about discharging wastewater to the river a percentage of the time. What does that mean? 

A description of the options is included in the booklet and at naturecalls.nz. The percentage is a portion of time in the year that we can discharge, based on when the river is either high enough to take the flows, or too low and we must discharge to land.