Horowhenua residents are being urged to tell Palmerston North exactly what it can do with its sewage.
They get a chance to do so at a public meeting to be held at Foxton on Monday night, where representatives from Palmerston North City Council will present a range of preliminary options that include continued discharge to Manawatū River.
Palmerston North's sewage, or wastewater, had been deposited into the Manawatū River since 1907. It was last granted resource consent to continue river discharge in 2002, with that consent now due to expire.
Foxton Beach resident Christina Paton said it was important all river users and downstream communities attend consultation meetings and voice their opinion.
A long-time advocate for land-based sewage disposal, Paton urged people to stop shrugging their shoulders over an environmental decision that could affect future generations.
Palmerston North City Council (PNCC) has to apply for new consent by 2022 and was inviting its residents and those in Horowhenua to have a say in how it manages, treats and discharges wastewater for the next 35 years.
It was described as "the biggest environmental and financial decision" the city had to make in a generation.
Deputy mayor Tangi Utikere, Project Manager Melaina Voss and Transport and Infrastructure Manager Robert van Bentum were fronting a series of public consultation meetings, with one held at Te Takere in Levin last week.
The next meeting is on Monday night between 5.30 and 6.30pm at Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom, 92 Main Street, Foxton.
Uitikere said the current consent has years to run but had brought forward the consent process due to concerns from Horizons that the current discharge was being treated for phosphorous, but not nitrogen.
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An information booklet titled "Nature Calls" featured information around the six options for wastewater disposal that had been shortlisted by PNCC.
The options range between continued river discharge or land-based discharge, or a hybrid of both, although one option on the table involves pumping the wastewater through a 2km undersea pipe directly into the Tasman Sea.
Land-based disposal would require purchasing property between 2000 and 3500 hectares, although no area of land had been earmarked yet as a potential yet.
The project will have a significant impact on PNCC ratepayers. It had $128.8 million set aside in a 10-year Long-Term Plan for a new wastewater solution, but realistic estimates have the cost pegged far higher.
The decision would significant impacts on PNCC debt levels and its rates would be increasing accordingly. Residents currently paid $253 for wastewater services each year, with future increases of around $300-$900 per home expected.
The six options ranged in cost between $264 million and $765m. Price could influence ratepayers though, as a price tag in the form of a potential rate increase was attached to each option in the consultation document.
Palmerston North City Mayor Grant Smith said, unfortunately, it isn't an optional project.
"Hearing these numbers on the back of covid-19 will be an understandable shock to our residents. The challenge for us will be to determine the most cost-effective option that strikes an appropriate balance between environmental, cultural, social and financial considerations," he said.
"I can assure you that government, external and industry funding is being explored, and these conversations will continue as we get closer towards choosing the best option for our city."
Smith said it was important to hear from residents from Horowhenua, too. Any land-based discharge option would impact Horowhenua as PNCC has no suitable land within it boundaries.
"Ideally, we'd be able to treat and discharge our wastewater within our own boundaries, but the land we need is just too significant," he said.
"While Palmerston North residents will be paying for this service, we want to make sure Horowhenua and Manawatū residents also get a say, and we'd urge them to give feedback."
"This decision will affect us and future generations for up to 35 years. Please make sure your voice is heard."
The average Palmerston North resident creates around 210 litres of wastewater a day and the city's population was growing.
Soil tests and talks with landowners of suitable land would only begin once a preferred option was available. There were also investigations into how wastewater could be better treated.
Meanwhile, big business would not be exempt. There were currently more than 500 trade waste customers paying around $1million combined per year to send their wastewater to our treatment plant.
Manawatū River remains one of the most polluted rivers in New Zealand.