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Consulting the community on water

FINDING a solution to disposing of Gisborne’s wastewater creates some unusual challenges, says Gisborne District Council Community Lifelines Senior Project Manager Wolfgang Kanz.

The council is now getting under way with an extensive consultation programme to find out what the community, who will be given at least five options, want. But it is not going to be easy.

According to the conditions of its resource consent package that allowed the council to continue using the submarine outfall pipe while it investigates other options, the council now has to get to a decision on what it will do regarding upgrading its wastewater treatment.

Wolfgang has the challenging role of managing the wastewater options process through to completion.

“It has been going on for a significant amount of time and my role now is to drive it to its end point.”

That requires managing it from both a technical perspective and a community and cultural one.

“The technical aspects are really the easier ones — the social, cultural and economic aspects like affordability and iwi concerns are the biggest challenges.

“We have got to stick to the process. I know that processes can be frustrating but there are legal requirements in the consent, and a thorough process is needed to make sure we get to the right outcome.

“There needs to be a fair and transparent process that ensures we are able to capture what the community as a whole actually want,” he said.

“We have basically finished most of the technical work and now really it is making sure we are able to communicate effectively.”

The council at its last meeting decided to approve five management options for consultation, which caters for recommendations from the wastewater management committee and council staff.

“Some really sound consultation skills will be required because there are quite a few options to take out to the community.

What’s the Future Tairawhiti (WTF)

Council is now in the process of going out to the community as part of the What’s the Future Tairawhiti (WTF) campaign but there will also be a consultation process dedicated solely for the wastewater options.

Because they were bound by the consent they had to ensure the consultation process was thorough and delivered accurately.

The district is a long way away from being able to completely get away from using the submarine outfall pipe constructed in the 60s, he said.

The reason for that is twofold. Industrial waste still goes down the pipe and that aspect is not being addressed at the moment. The consent deals only with domestic wastewater. Something to also consider is that keeping the pipe operating for the industrial wastewater offers a “fail safe” option in emergencies. Whilst everyone’s preference would be for no wastewater to ever go into the bay, if there was a big problem at the wastewater treatment plant, then the pipe offers an alternative to releasing wastewater into the city’s streams.

The other reason is that to date no alternative disposal method or alternative use for the wastewater has been found.

“There are various reasons for that, including physical constraints. We are quite unique here in that all our rivers are low volume, low flushing so you can’t discharge even highly-treated wastewater into those streams,” he said.

Even the Waipaoa has such low flows in summer, that there would not be enough dilution for a wastewater discharge.

“That is just from a purely water chemistry perspective, and there would also be a lot of social concerns with releasing treated wastewater into one or more streams or rivers in the Poverty Bay flats.

“Also we have a very high groundwater table. So all the normal disposal options that people look at, like irrigation or discharge into a river, are not standalone options in Gisborne.

Treated domestic wastewater

“We will only be able to stop treated domestic wastewater going out the outfall into the bay once we are able to put the water somewhere else.

“We would have to have water users who want to use the treated wastewater. At present there has not been a market demand for it.

“I think that will change in the future — when I don’t know — but with climate change and with economic growth we may have more water-users in the future. That might be the turning point for the market.

Complex cultural and social issues make it harder to find a solution that is acceptable for all. Iwi have cultural objections to wastewater being mixed with natural water, and the community as a whole would likely also support something that stopped the wastewater going into the bay. The difficulty is finding a solution that enables that, and making sure that solution is affordable.”

These were some of the questions to be informed by the consultation process, he said. It was important to find out what the public wanted. Without that a decision could not be made on their behalf.

It has all meant a really busy first 10 months on the job for a man who considers himself a global citizen.

Born in Germany, he grew up in South West Africa, now Namibia, until he was aged 10 before going to South Africa where he went to university. He has a Masters degree in Applied Environmental Science, and he has specialised in wetlands and other freshwater sciences.

He worked in Germany for 2½ years and the United Kingdom for five. After another five years in South Africa the family moved to Auckland in 2010.

Wolfgang, 43, met his wife Megan, a South African, in London. The couple have two children, Rebecca, nine and Shannon who will be seven next month — both have settled well at Makauri School.

Started in November

He started his present job with the GDC last November. Megan is working as a teacher at Mangapapa School, where she is very happy.

“Hopefully this will be my last move now”, he said.

“I love it here — we moved here for the kids and the family life. It is coming up roses, it is a great place to settle.”

Wolfgang has got back into surfing after 30 years — a “work in progress” — and also hopes to get back into kayaking. His main sporting passion is rugby which he says has left its mark on his body.

Megan’s interests include fly fishing and the couple have done some tramping in the Waioeka area.

The family have a lot of animals on their lifestyle block. That includes three ponies — part of his deal to get his wife who is an equine therapist to move here — a pet lamb, three dogs, chickens, plus some others.

“It’s quite a menagerie and part of the reason we moved here.

“It makes things complicated and busy, but the kids get great value out of the animals. I am looking forward to a real Gisborne summer.”

As extensive consultations for upgrading the city’s wastewater system begin, project leader Wolfgang Kanz is pictured at work in his office.
menagerie:The Gisborne lifestyle is a big attraction for Megan and Wolfgang Kanz and their daughters Rebecca (left) and Shannon along with some of their “menagerie”, ponies Sam, Maya and George, pet lamb Dusty and dog Diesel.