Russel Norman
Win-win option for Wairarapa water

I spent Wednesday in the sunny Wairarapa checking out a plan for a cool-sounding irrigation scheme.

Checking out the Ruamahunga River with local farmers

Masterton District Council (MDC) is due to make a decision next month about how it will upgrade its wastewater facilities. At the moment, 100 percent of the town’s sewage is pumped (after treatment) into the Ruamahanga River, which pleases no-one, especially not local iwi Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa. (The Ruamahanga did pretty badly in the freshwater quality league tables released by the Ministry for the Environment last year).

MDC has plans to upgrade by diverting some of this waste from the river and re-using it for irrigation on a council-owned farm. That sounds pretty good, but the current plan is to irrigate with about a third of the treated sewage using border dykes which are a fairly outdated way to irrigate and cause quite a lot of the waste to leach back into the groundwater and ultimately the river. The other two thirds would still go in the river.

The alternative is to use cheaper centre pivot irrigators which can spread the waste water more evenly over a larger distance, and spread it at a rate that means a lot less of it leaches back into the river. Even better, there are farmers lining up on neighbouring properties who would love to use the other two thirds of the treated waste water for irrigation during the dry months, meaning 100 percent of the sewage could be diverted out of the river. The money that would have been spent on costly, outdated border dykes could be spent on treating the water so that it’s up to irrigation standard for these farms.

Sounds like a win win to me – the Ruamahanga gets cleaned up, and a waste product gets reused as a sustainable resource.

Existing sewage treatment ponds due for upgrade

But the MDC has to choose between border dykes and centre pivots soon and it’s not looking promising, despite a feasibility study into the alternatives. It seems a bit crazy that they’re making such an important decision that will bind future councils right before an election, so I reckon they should get on with the non-controversial upgrades on the sewage treatment ponds and delay the decision about irrigation until there’s a new council.

In the meantime, the farmers, irrigators, iwi representatives and Sustainable Wairarapa members I met with are planning a public meeting to spread the word about how Masterton could get its sewage out of the river and into productive use. All power to them I say!

Thanks to everyone I met with for their hospitality and information.

One thought on “Win-win option for Wairarapa water

  1. It’s unbelievable how councils just refuse to take advice and act on these issues! These guys have got willing farmers, flat land – what is their problem?

    Here in Hokianga we have been fighting this battle to keep treated effluent out of our Harbour for nearly 30 years now – and still they say that it is the best system, that everything else is too expensive.

    What is expensive is the pollution of the iconic Hokianga Harbour – loss or downgrade of traditional fishing, recreation, tourism.

    We don’t have the flat land – the ponds are hemmed in by harbour on one side and hills on the other – but there are other alternatives. The hill land could be purchased and planted as a permaculture waste management system, or, the very cheapest option, a few thousand vetiver grass plants put in the overflow swamp paddocks instead of the present dyke system.

    Septic tank sludge should go nowhere near it – this stuff can be dealt with entirely away from waterways, treated with worms and used as vermipost for pasture and trees – Mac McLaren at Warkworth has been doing that successfully for 30 years. He makes a good living from it too.

    Meanwhile, we’re fighting a relicensing of the same old system for another generation to put up with.

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