Hamilton City Council has been sentenced in the Hamilton District Court following a wastewater discharge into the Waikato River which occurred in February 2018.
In handing down the fine of $54,000, Judge Melinda Dickey noted the Council had entered a guilty plea at the first reasonable opportunity, had shown considerable remorse, and had identified several corrective actions to prevent similar discharge events recurring.
As part of its redress actions the Council also agreed to undertake education and awareness programmes, carry out riparian planting and implement a new internship programme.
On 20 February 2018, the Bridge St wastewater pump station discharged wastewater into the Waikato River. An internal investigation undertaken by the Council identified two key faults: the wastewater pumps had not been signalled to start, and high-level alarms were not triggered. Both would normally occur in response to increasing levels of wastewater in the pump station’s well.
The Council staff who identified the discharge immediately stopped the overflow by restarting the pumps and returning the pump station to its normal operation. Waikato Regional Council, as the regulator, was notified of the overflow approximately 40 minutes after the overflow had stopped.
No environmental damage or health concerns were reported by the community in connection to this event, however the Council appreciates the discharge of wastewater into the Waikato River, te tupuna awa, is particularly offensive from a cultural perspective.
Under the 2012 Joint Management Agreement (JMA), the Waikato Raupatu River Trust (Waikato-Tainui) and the Council share responsibility to protect and restore the health and wellbeing of the Waikato River for future generations.
Following the incident, the Council participated in two positive and productive restorative justice meetings. Representatives from Waikato-Tainui and Te Haa o Te Whenua o Kirikiriroa (THaWK), representing local mana whenua, attended.
Through this process, the Council committed to several actions to help restore the river and provide guidance for its future decision-making in respect of the Waikato River.
The actions agreed upon with Waikato-Tainui and Te Haa o Te Whenua o Kirikiriroa include:
- The development of principles for notification and mauri restoration frameworks.
- The Council’s staff undertaking waananga and knowledge sharing in relation to the significance and maatauranga of the Waikato River.
- Remedial actions for Waka Taua present in the Waikato River at the time of the discharge.
- Contribution to riparian planting projects.
- The development and refinement of an internship programme for rangitahi.
- The Council’s staff to share their lessons from the event with industry peers.
Hamilton City Council City Waters Manager Maire Porter says: “We have a strong commitment to protecting the environment in the work we do, and we are committed to doing our utmost to ensure overflows like this are minimised.”
As part of the investigation undertaken by the Council following the discharge, 16 improvements were identified. These ranged from the review and update of processes, practice and systems, to additional staff training and improved site security, and management of change to control systems. All 16 of these recommendations have since been implemented.
“We have great respect for the Waikato River and consider it a taonga,” says Mrs Porter. “We know the importance the awa has for local iwi, as well as the wider community. It is vitally important for us as a guardian to keep it safe and healthy.
The Council’s Acting General Manager Infrastructure Operations Tania Hermann says: “We know we must work closely and proactively with our partner organisations, like Waikato-Tainui and Waikato Regional Council. It is imperative to have open, honest dialogue about the river and its wellbeing – it is the heart of our city.”