Editorial: Eyes on harbour health

By Craig Cooper

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There is an excellent report in circulation that examines Whangarei Harbour water quality.

It is the product of a union between the Whangarei District Council and the Northland Regional Council, and sets out historical and present-day analysis of the harbour's aqua-quality.

In recent years, Northlanders have become quite passionate about this subject.

The catalyst for this passion was the Northern Advocate. The uproar began after an innocuous wee notice in the paper's public notices. The notice advertised the WDC's intention to seek renewal of permission from the NRC to discharge 23,000 cubic metres of mostly diluted sewage into the harbour when it rained heavily.

"That's a lot of sewage," I thought after spotting the notice.

The permission was required because each time it rained heavily, the town's creaking sewage system and illegal domestic rainwater/sewage outlets combined to pollute the harbour, meaning the WDC was breaching the Resource Management Act.

Rather than fix the problem, we polluted the harbour, and the WDC escaped punishment as it had resource consent via the NRC.

However, the public demanded the problem be fixed and, several years later, we have joint political and community determination to improve the water quality.

Major remedial works have been done - a holding tank at Whareora Rd now intercepts diluted sewage before it gets to the Hatea River. There are still problems with parts of the wastewater network, and here we have a sense of deja vu - the WDC is breaching the RMA each time the system fails in heavy rain, and again needs what amounts to an anticipatory resource consent.

The difference this time is an intent to fix the network is set out in the report the WDC and NRC have collated on, and thousands of eyes are watching the progress on improving harbour water quality.

Aside from being an excellent example of democracy at work, the scrutiny should ensure the harbour is a recreational and commercial resource for generations.

- Northern Advocate

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