In recent times Environment Southland has extended their interest in pollution in the region. As it turns out it is not just the farming sector who would be contributing to the state of the region’s waterways.
According to Environment Southland, about a third of Southland households use septic tanks to dispose of their sewage and if the system stops working properly, there’s a high risk that untreated waste will reach groundwater or streams and rivers.
This, they say, can pose a risk to human health and to the environment.
Recently Environment Southland has released a discussion paper and questionnaire inviting community feedback as part of a project to review and update the regional policies and rules on discharging foul water to land.
Resource Planner Gavin Gilder says that the council is also looking at discharges from long-drop toilets, campervan waste dump stations and mobile systems such as chemical toilets and holding tanks that contain sewage but don’t treat it.
“We estimate that over 12,000 households around the region use septic tanks,” Gavin says. “There are no reliable records about their age and their condition, but anecdotal evidence from other councils’ building inspectors, plumbers and septic tank cleaners suggests that a lot of them may be failing.”
It’s also likely that many septic tanks installed more than ten years ago no longer meet the New Zealand wastewater design standards.
Environment Southland fears that septic tanks can end up discharging untreated sewage direct to groundwater or into drains if they are not well maintained or are too small to cope with the volume of waste the household produces.
As well as septic tanks, Environment Southland is also looking for feedback on the environmental impacts of long-drop toilets, particularly those dug by whitebaiters close to their stands along riverbanks, and duck shooters’ maimai.
The current rule sets minimum distances from long-drop toilets to different types of water – including rivers, estuaries and ponds. Mr Gilder said that Environment Southland hadn’t been actively policing the rule, but it was obvious that few long-drop toilets built by whitebaiters would comply.
“Our current thinking is that portable toilets may be the best alternative for people who can’t comply with the rule because their long-drop is too close to water and there’s no-where else they can put it. We would like to hear what whitebaiters think about this proposal,” Mr Gilder said.
The Council’s discussion paper and questionnaire are on-line at www.es.govt.nz . Copies have been sent to stakeholders including the Whitebait Association, to other councils and to camping grounds and holiday parks who provide facilities for campervans to empty their on-board toilets.
The closing date for sending feedback is 20 May.