We need wastewater systems that don’t harm people and the planet

We need wastewater systems that don't harm people and the planet


The Porirua Wastewater Teatment Plant “is already struggling to process the incoming waste at its current capacity and often overflows into the ocean with heavy rainfall”, Pania Rei writes.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

The Porirua Wastewater Teatment Plant “is already struggling to process the incoming waste at its current capacity and often overflows into the ocean with heavy rainfall”, Pania Rei writes.

Pania Rei is a member of Ngāti Toa Rangatira and a climate justice campaigner with ActionStation

OPINION: Have you ever wondered where your number 1s and 2s go after flushing? Do they just disappear into the watery vacuum that is the toilet? Or is there more to it than that?

For most people, this thought probably never crosses their mind. But in Porirua, that very thing is causing a larger problem than you may think.

Before reaching the Porirua Wastewater Treatment Plant, waste travels from our homes, through the pipes to a pump-station situated just outside my iwi’s pā, Takapūwāhia, before making its final journey to be processed. The collection area for the plant reaches from Pukerua Bay through to certain northern Wellington suburbs, including Johnsonville and Newlands. On arrival, the waste is processed, treated, then dumped into the sea – just around the corner from the beach and homes of Titahi Bay.

At this point, it’s meant to be completely safe and free from harmful bacteria. However, with the Porirua plant and many other wastewater treatment centers throughout the country, this isn’t always the case.

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The aging pipe network and large collection area result in constant pipe bursts and overflows. If you’re a Porirua local like me, I’m sure you’re familiar with these events and the horrible smell they bring.

But when this untreated sewage enters our waterways, it becomes dangerous to swim, makes kaimoana inedible, and hurts our sensitive native ecosystems.

The plant is already struggling to process the incoming waste at its current capacity and often overflows into the ocean with heavy rainfall. The untreated sludge and wastewater is then flushed out towards Mana Island and into Cook Strait, or, because of the tides, towards the beach and Porirua harbour.

Though this issue affects all residents of Porirua, it has a significant impact on my iwi, Ngāti Toa Rangatira, and our ability to maintain and participate in significant cultural practices, like gathering kai and recreational activities related to the moana. It is crucial for us, as Māori, to learn and engage in these cultural practices in order to keep the mātauranga of our iwi alive and thriving, particularly for rangatahi Māori such as myself.

A drain outfall at the southern end of Titahi Bay beach which is known for sewage overflow.

MONIQUE FORD/Stuff

A drain outfall at the southern end of Titahi Bay beach which is known for sewage overflow.

The disposal of bodily waste in the ocean directly contradicts many concepts within Te Ao Māori. Te Rūnanga o Toa Rangatira’s Pou Toa Matarau Naomi Solomon says, “the way wastewater is treated in Aotearoa and the resource management system fails to address ongoing breaches of our tikanga caused by the cultural and spiritual abhorrence of disposing of human waste to our moana”.

The plant has never met the standard that was expected in the processing of biowaste, and this was reinforced in a 2021 independent review. The review found that relationships between Veolia – the international corporation tasked with running the plant – and Wellington Water were dysfunctional.

Decades of poor management and collapsing infrastructure will be compounded by the expanding population in Porirua, and an increase in heavy rainfall events due to climate change. Both the harbor and its people will continue to suffer the consequences, unless we can create safer wastewater management alternatives.

Pania Rei: “Wellington Water are adding upgrades to the treatment plant with an ultraviolet light system, worth millions, to process and disinfect our waste.”

SUPPLIED

Pania Rei: “Wellington Water are adding upgrades to the treatment plant with an ultraviolet light system, worth millions, to process and disinfect our waste.”

The consent hearings took place last week to allow the treatment plant to operate for another 20 years. Wellington Water is adding upgrades to the treatment plant with an ultraviolet light system, worth millions, to process and disinfect our waste. This should inspire confidence that the harbour’s most polluted days are in the past.

However, these consents, if approved, will allow for both treated and untreated waste to be discharged into the harbour, and the current councilors who oversee Wellington Water have yet to produce a plan that will give the communities of Porirua a waste treatment system that is resilient for an increasing population and the climate crisis.

Our communities deserve wastewater management systems that do not harm our people or planet. This could look like decentralizing, with smaller, community based collection centres, or even treating and processing our waste into a resource that can be used for fertiliser.

But ultimately the authority to make these changes lies with the council. It’s not implausible to envision a system that works to the benefit of the environment and our people. It’s important for us to have representatives on these councils who will stand for flourishing, healthy waterways that can sustain healthy ecosystems whilst also being safe for recreational activities and positively impact the lives of the surrounding communities.

This vision can be achieved by electing local and regional councilors in the upcoming elections who are passionate about the health of the people and regions they look after in their role.



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