Paddocks in Featherston that have been set aside for wastewater irrigation. PHOTO/SWDC

 

HAYLEY GASTMEIER

hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

 

An initiative to clean up South Wairarapa’s waterways has been challenged by Featherston residents living next to land designated for irrigating the town’s wastewater.

Worries about E. coli contamination, spray drift, population growth, rate increases and property devaluations were raised at a public meeting on Monday.

In 2011, South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) finalised its goal to have 100 per cent of the district’s waste water irrigated to land by 2040.

When Hodder Farm came up for sale in 2014, the council purchased the 166ha block on Murphy’s Line with the intention to use it for irrigation as well as another 8ha block.

People who own properties neighbouring the land say the proposed scheme was never disclosed when they bought their sections.

Residents from these properties, as well as other ratepayers turned out to hear SWDC chief executive Paul Crimp explain the resource consent process and answer questions.

Mr Crimp said the scheme would see urban rates increase in favour of “fresh water health”.

Murphy’s Line resident Virginia Love said her property was 25m from one of the irrigation paddocks.

“We’ve been there two years and we were never informed there would be anything like this going in there, and to find out that this is happening next to us is devastating.”

The irrigation setup would detract from the scenery that is enjoyed by tourists and local people.

While anxious her property could be devalued by the scheme, E.coli and seepage were Mrs Love’s key concerns.

Mr Crimp said wastewater would be ultra-violet treated prior to irrigation. That would remove 99 per cent of the pathogens.

Mrs Love said many families living on Murphy’s Line were on rainwater or bore water supplies and she was worried these could become contaminated.

There would be a buffer zone of 50m around bores, and 25m on either side of waterways, Mr Crimp said.

There would also be a 25m buffer zone within the boundaries of the irrigation paddocks.

Another woman from Murphy’s Line said despite some fears, she was “all for” the council cleaning up Donald’s Creek, from which her dogs had contracted skin conditions.

The windy nature of Featherston was a concern raised by many.

Mr Crimp said automatic sensors would shut off the irrigators if the windspeed exceeded 42kmh, or if there were wind gusts above 14kmh for longer than 15minutes.

One man said it was “idiotic” to have the irrigators and holding ponds so close to an urban area.

Featherston Community Board member Claire Bleakley asked if the council had factored in potential population growth in Featherston, where real estate was booming.

Mr Crimp said growth would be tracked and if necessary, the ponds could be increased.

It was unlikely the irrigation land area would need to be expanded, he said.

The town’s high-water table was also raised.

Mr Crimp said irrigation to land would cease when the ground water table was a metre from the soil surface.

During wetter months, the holding ponds would be able to contain several months of wastewater.

Greytown ward councillor Colin Wright, formerly chief executive of Carterton District Council, which began irrigating to land about four years ago said the system proposed for Featherston was like Carterton’s which, to his knowledge, had posed few or no issues.

The irrigators, running alongside State Highway 2 south of Carterton, were now almost unnoticeable because of a planting programme, Mr Wright said.

Resource consents with 35-year terms were achieved last year for both Greytown and Martinborough.

The council lodged an application for Featherston with Greater Wellington Regional Council in February, and expect it to be publicly notified before the end of the year.

People would then have 20 working days to lodge submissions on the proposal.

This process will be followed by formal hearings before independent commissioners.

Mayor Viv Napier encouraged people with concerns to lodge submissions to ensure their voices were heard.

Yesterday, Mr Crimp said the wastewater urban rate was $546 per year for a connected property, and this was projected to rise to $800 annually in 2043.

There were up to eight houses adjoining the land earmarked for irrigation, but no houses were on the immediate boundary, he added.