We've grouped the questions we anticipate you might ask into five 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 email@example.com 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.
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?
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.
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, and what councillors choose in mid-2021. We will also keep you informed of the resource consent application. Updates will be released at naturecalls.nz and Council’s Facebook page.
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.
What happens once there is an option?
Once Council selects an option in mid-2021, we'll spend the next year developing the resource consent application. This will require a lot more investigation into the treatment and discharge methods. In mid-2022 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.
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.
What do the government’s changes to the three waters/RMA mean for this project?
When Nature Calls began in 2017 the legislative and policy framework was different from what we are facing now. Major decisions have been made at Government level that have the potential to impact significantly on the delivery of Nature Calls.
Currently we are working ahead of these major changes being implemented, however we are required to consider these as we progress to lodging the Resource Consent and Assessment of Effects. The following outlines the relevant legislative changes and how they will impact Nature Calls.
Three Waters: In mid-2017, Government commenced a review of how to improve the regulation and supply arrangements for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater (three waters). Our Council has been working with Government throughout this process. BY 2025, it is likely the Council will no longer be responsible for the delivery of the three waters and services to
users. However Council is still required to continue with the Nature Calls project until these changes are implemented. National updates on the Three Waters Bill are available at dia.govt.nz.
Freshwater Policy: A new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM 2020) came into effect on 3 September 2020. The NPSFM 2020 will require Council to give greater consideration to improving water quality and giving effect to Te Mana o te Wai. The NPSFM 2020 must be implemented through the One Plan by 2024. Te Mana o te Wai is a concept that refers to the fundamental importance of water and recognises that protecting the health of freshwater protects the health and well-being of the wider environment, and protects the mauri of the wai (water). Te Mana o te Wai is about restoring and preserving the balance between the water, the wider environment, and the community. Highly relevant to Nature Calls, is the requirement for Councils to manage periphyton (growth attached to under water surfaces) in rivers as a compulsory attribute to achieve ecosystem health. Managing periphyton growth is a requirement of our current consent and is included in the Rules of the current One Plan now. The NPSFM will introduce more stringent regulations and criteria than currently in place in the One Plan.
Resource Management Act: Following a comprehensive review of the resource management system, which was released last year, the Government confirmed the RMA would be replaced with three new Acts. These include the Natural and Built Environment Act, the Strategic Planning Act and Climate Change Adaptation Act. It is intended that all three pieces of legislation are passed by the end of 2022. As our application for Nature Calls will be lodged prior to the new legislation being in place, the resource consent will be assessed under the existing RMA. A consent could be in place for up to 35 years.
Where can I find out more?
You’re at the right place! Naturecalls.nz is the hub for everything to do with this consultation.
The options and treatment
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.
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 mid-2021, 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.
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. We asked for your feedback on these in June-July 2020. Since then we've developed these options further and now have three options we want you to consider.
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 mid-2021, 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.
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.
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 feedback period. Once we have selected an option, this work would progress.
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.
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 3, 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.
Why don’t we get a say on the other options?
The three 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.
Why have we ruled out a full land discharge?
The land required for this option would have been larger than the Palmerston North urban footprint. This is a significant portion of land, and we’d need to have leased or purchased these large pockets of land in other regions. There is no guarantee that we could secure this much land in one single area, meaning we may need to look for multiple areas of land across the region. This would cost significantly more than the current estimate, as we would need more infrastructure. This would also be less resilient than other options. Requiring this much land has the potential to impact individuals, including their homes and their livelihoods. It more broadly will impact on communities at the scale proposed. The types of soil we need for drainage is also the type of soil needed for growing food and farming beef and sheep. This large portion of land would likely take significant portions of productive land away.
Option two still has the majority (55%) of wastewater being applied to land and would be by far the largest land application site in New Zealand.
Why have we ruled out groundwater?
Following our options refinement process last year, we identified a discharge to ground water would require significant treatment, land area and potentially has risks around water supply sources. The Council has agreed the option was not viable and therefore we did not see any merit in progressing this option to the MCA phase of assessment. We also ruled out discharging to groundwater as an option, as it wasn’t well supported by our community and both the land areas and the treatment levels required were significant.
Why does the river option now have some land on it?
Over summer when river levels are low, the impacts of treated wastewater can be more significant. Our Option 1 would allow for discharge to land over these summer months to further mitigate the impacts of the treated wastewater on our awa.
Why is the ocean an option if it wasn’t well supported in the last feedback period?
We believe it’s important to look at the potential for regional growth as the Government considers reforms to the management of water. An Ocean Discharge is the most common discharge in New Zealand and could better allow for a long term solution by catering for a regional scheme where other towns and cities share the same pipes to discharge treated wastewater.
Would we still need land in other regions?
Land required for our options needs to be within the Manawatu-Whanganui Region. One of our mitigation strategies for options including land, is to identify land available within the Palmerston North boundary. However, these land areas are substantial and the reality is we will need to look for land in either Horowhenua or Manawatū Districts. Within our options, we are considering either coastal sands or fluvial soils (inland), which requires us to look for land that is outside of Palmerston North.
How will the wastewater be treated?
Each of our options has a different level of treatment proposed, depending on the receiving environment and target levels we must meet under One Plan. Currently, Option 1 is the highest available treatment in New Zealand, including four stages of treatment prior to entering a wetland or land passage. Option 2 (55% to land), has improved treatment from what we currently do and will discharge to the River for approximately 45% of the flow (above median flow). We have all the details about treatment on our website or in the consultation guides which you can get from libraries or our customer service centre.
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.
How much is it going to cost?
Each option description explains the estimated costs associated, and what the potential rates impact could be.
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.
Why have the costs changed so much since last year?
Since July 2020, we have refined each of the options. This has involved identifying a desirable treatment regime that will achieve One Plan targets and minimise adverse effects on the environment. Further work has also been undertaken to model the effects of residential and trade waste growth on the network, along with associated operation and maintenance costs for each option. We have also further explored the opportunities for revenue with each of the land based options and updated these costs.
While the Council is continuing to engage with the government over potential funding opportunities for the BPO, we have not accounted for external funding at this stage of the project, as this is not yet known. The Council is directly engaged with the government through the Three Waters programme and is continuing to explore funding opportunities for the best practicable option.
How much will my rates go up?
You can find these details at naturecalls.nz. 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, and some of the options discuss how that could work.
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 three 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.
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.
Public engagement and feedback
Do I have to give feedback?
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 give feedback?
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 the feedback period 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 mid-2021.
Is there an age limit to giving feedback?
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?
All of our options have an impact on a neighbouring area due to how our waterways work. 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. Last year we conducted a major feedback period where every home in the city received information about the project and were asked to give feedback. Even if you haven’t heard of the project before, it’s important that you have your say now.
Can I give feedback as both a resident and a business owner?
Yes, you can.
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.
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 give us your feedback and come to public meetings. Make sure your voice is heard.
Nature Calls and the 10-Year Plan
Can I give feedback on both Nature Calls and 10YP?
Of course. That’s what we’d love for you to do! Nature Calls focuses on our future treatment and discharge of our wastewater and it’s so important we hear what you think. But our 10-Year plan helps shape everything about our city - you can tell us what you love, or what you think we should be doing better at.
If I only give feedback on one project, will that be shared as part of the other one?
Nature Calls will provide a summary of feedback as part of the 10YP consultation report, and vice versa. Whilst we are doing this, we’d love to see you make a submission on both as they involve very different things.
Why isn’t it just one consultation?
That would seem easier, eh! Unfortunately, we can’t though. They are guided by different legislation which means we need to treat them separately. The 10YP is a formal consultation (which means you can speak to your submission), but Nature Calls is still in the engagement, or feedback phase. When Horizons notifies our consent, people will be able to make a formal submission to them which may allow people to talk to their feedback.
Why are you running them at the same time?
That has simply come down to timing. The 10-Year Plan happens at the same time of year, every three years. The Nature Calls feedback period is happening now, as we need to notify our regulator, Horizons Regional Council, of our preferred option in the middle of this year. Before then we need your final feedback before our elected members determine what that preferred option is.
Nature Calls is a major part of the 10-Year Plan, so having the two running concurrently means you can come along to our drop-in sessions and talk about everything in one go!
If the Three Waters reforms happen, and a regional agency takes over the operation of water, what does that mean for our 10-Year Plan and Nature Calls?
This space is changing fast, and we’re expecting more clarification from the government later this year about potential reforms. We will know what is happening before we prepare the next 10-Year Plan in 2024.
The Nature Calls process needs to continue as we are legally required to have consents.
If the Three Waters reforms proceed, and the government confirms that the operation and management of wastewater would be run by a separate agency, we’d then be able to advise you of what happens in that scenario.
This is a factor that every council in the country will be facing, so we expect the government will give us guidance on what we need to do if and when that happens.
If the Three Waters reforms happen, and a regional agency takes over the operation of water, why should I bother giving feedback?
Because it’s important your voice is heard. At the end of the day, regardless of who is responsible for the service, your wastewater will still need to be treated and discharged. You can be assured that if a new agency forms, all the information we’ve gathered from our rigorous investigations and feedback periods will be shared.
Can I speak to my feedback?
The 10 Year Plan does have hearings for its submissions. They’re likely to happen late May.
Nature Calls doesn’t have hearings for feedback at this point. The public hearings for this will happen when Horizons Regional Council notifies our resource consent application. When that happens, we’ll be letting you know, so you can make sure you get a chance to tell them your views in person.
What kind of feedback do I give?
Can I talk to you about both projects at the same time?
Of course! We want to make it as easy as possible for you, so we’re going to have some sessions together. You can check out the days and times here: naturecalls.nz