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The Whanganui River is being nursed back to health since the commissioning of the city's wastewater treatment plant.
Fish and birds have returned to the river, dangerous bacteria have all but disappeared, and Castlecliff Beach is a safe place to swim again.
This was just some of the good news given to Wanganui District councillors by wastewater treatment plant operator Phil Gilmore at a recent infrastructure and property committee meeting.
Mr Gilmore was giving a presentation to the committee on the changing health of the river since the treatment plant was installed in July 2007.
By 1970 the river was nearly dead.
"There were 169 outfalls discharging directly into the river. Those were the ones we knew about. It was 150 years of non-stop pollution," Mr Gilmore said.
Raw sewage went into the river, as well as farm run-off, animal offal, chromium and other dangerous chemicals and pollutants.
"Imagine what it was like to be swimming in that. You'd have to be inoculated before you got into the river," he said.
Fish had all but disappeared from the river by the 1980s, except for red cod, which was a scavenger fish and thrived in the polluted conditions. In 1984, the pumping station at Beach Rd was commissioned, "which was the day the rot stopped", Mr Gilmore said.
However, 47 tonnes of untreated effluent per day were still being pumped into the sea until the $15 million wastewater treatment plant began operating four years ago.
The change in water quality in the Whanganui River had been huge since then, Mr Gilmore said.
"In 1970, the river had 7.4million coliforms per 100ml, now it has less than four coliforms per 100ml.
"The river is full of kahawai, snapper, trevally, flounder and even the occasional seal. The bird life has returned to the river, too.
"Castlecliff Beach is now a place where you can swim without fear of getting sick," he said.
The river's tinge of brown was mainly due to silt.
The clean-up of the Whanganui was a collaboration between the council, iwi and other interested parties, Mr Gilmore said.
Councillor Ray Stevens, chairman of the infrastructure and property committee, said he was staggered by Mr Gilmore's presentation.
"I knew we had a bit of a problem with the river, but I honestly had no idea it was so bad," Mr Stevens said. He was thrilled to know the river was healthy again.