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What is Nature Calls?

Every time you remove a plug, flush, turn off a tap, or your dishwasher or washing machine beeps – that water goes to our Wastewater Treatment Plant at Tōtara Road, where it's treated before being discharged into the Manawatū River.

Managing water resources and the discharge of wastewater is the joint responsibility of the City Council and Horizons Regional Council. The mechanism we use that allows us discharge our treated wastewater is the resource consent process under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Our current resource consent was granted in 2003 for 25 years. However, in 2016 Horizons Regional Council became concerned about the increase in algae and sludge downstream from our discharge. We don’t want to cause our awa (river) significant harm, so we agreed to bring forward our next application for consent to 2022.

The RMA process requires an option that appropriately avoids or mitigates adverse effects on the environment and meets the purpose and principles of the RMA (Part 2). To meet these requirements we will investigate – and show proof of – our analysis of possible options and the potential effects on the natural, social, cultural and economic environments. It is essential that we also engage with our community.

We’re calling this project Nature Calls. It is one of the largest projects Palmerston North City Council has undertaken. It will be the biggest environmental and financial decision our city needs to make in the coming years.

What have we done already? 

A longlist of 26 options for how we manage, treat, and discharge wastewater was developed by technical experts with input from stakeholders. These options were grouped into seven categories, based on the type of environment treated wastewater would be discharged into:

  • land application
  • discharge to river
  • combined land and river discharge
  • discharge to groundwater
  • ocean discharge
  • discharge to a water supply network
  • discharge to air

A robust assessment and testing process considered a number of environmental, cultural, economic and social factors, and options from each group have been selected to make up a shortlist of six options. (link to options page)

What happens next?

We’ll be bringing the shortlisted wastewater management options to you in early 2020.

After we hear your feedback in early 2020, our experts will continue to investigate all six options.

In late 2020, we will take your feedback as well as technical investigations, affordability, 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. Once an option is chosen to proceed with, over the next 18 months we’ll be working on the formal resource consent application, which includes preparing an Assessment of Environmental Effects. We need to lodge the resource consent application and assessment with Horizons Regional Council before June 2022.

Horizons Regional Council will assess the application and may approve it as is, with consent conditions, or decline the application. It is likely that the consent application will be publicly notified.

Once the consent is granted, we will be required to adhere to the conditions. The consent will confirm where the treated wastewater will be discharged to, how much can be discharged, what level of treatment is needed, and monitoring and reporting requirements.

How much will it cost?

Before the project started in 2017, a budget of $128 million was set aside in the 10 Year Plan as a placeholder for a new wastewater solution. The exact cost of shortlisted options, as well as funding opportunities, is part of ongoing investigations into each option. Opportunities to reduce the cost to ratepayers will also be looked at.

We want the project to be delivered in a financially sustainable way. But improving our wastewater management and infrastructure won’t be cheap. We need to consider all practicable options and choose the most acceptable ways to manage, treat and discharge our wastewater.

During consultation, we hope to be able to give a range of what each option may cost.