This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on November 04, 2019
Water quality and fisheries in lakes Pauri and Wiritoa are on a highway to hell and the people responsible aren't doing anything, concerned Whanganui resident George Matthews says.
He says it's irking him that Whanganui Prison is still discharging stormwater into the stream that links the two lakes while the Corrections Department's consent application to continue the discharge is on hold.
Corrections proposes to clean up the discharge by installing a filter system and excluding groundwater from surrounding farms and diverting the stormwater.
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The prison's monitoring work has found local groundwater is a source of some of the contaminants.
"We consider that the discharge to the lakes of high-quality stormwater after new treatment remains the most feasible engineering option and the best ecological outcome of those practically available to us," Whanganui Prison director Reti Pearse said.
Since the prison was established in 1978, stormwater from its roofs and paved areas has been discharged into the stream through an underground pipe. Consent to do so ran out in December 2013.
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The department applied to Horizons Regional Council for fresh consent six months before it ran out, which enabled the discharge to continue until consent was granted. The water contains traces of zinc and copper, nitrogen and phosphorus, and some E. coli faecal bacteria.
A report by environmental planning consultancy Boffa Miskell says diverting the discharge elsewhere - most likely into the stream that leaves Lake Wiritoa - would be expensive and difficult. It suggested instead installing a treatment system that would remove most of the zinc, copper, nitrogen and phosphorus and all the rubbish.
The report says most of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the lake is from farming activity, and the E. coli would be mostly from birds. And it said the prison needed "operational certainty".
The consent renewal was publicly notified and there were several submissions on it. Corrections has met with the Ngāti Tupoho and Ngā Wairiki-Ngāti Apa iwi, which made submissions.
Tupoho told the department the lakes were prized for eeling, and Ngā Wairiki-Ngāti Apa said the iwi had big plans for the lakes and the coastal area around them.
Matthews was another submitter. He said earlier tests had found Pauri Lake pristine, whereas now it "can't get any worse".
He said he had no confidence in Horizons' ability to manage waterways.
He acknowledged farming may have contributed some nutrients, but said the prison was a "big contributor" too.
"If that was a farmer having problems with his dairy effluent something would have happened a damn sight sooner than this."
He said private enterprises were getting hammered by Horizons, but, in his opinion, a big government department was "showing no integrity and very little commitment".
Former Kaitoke resident Lyn Turner-Teki grew up swimming in Lake Pauri and was also bothered by the prison's stormwater discharge. She said in her opinion the government was pushing farmers on new water rules and flouting them itself.
For Matthews, it's not swimming or boating that's at issue - it's the fishery.
"It's 'can the fishery survive and breed there?'. When that can happen then humans can swim quite safely," he said.
He said both cultural and scientific input were needed to make the difference.
The consent is on hold and is expected to proceed to a hearing next year, a Horizons spokeswoman said.