Hamilton sewage spill: city council sentenced for environmental release

The blockage caused sewage to overflow into the Delia Court stormwater system and then into the Te Awa o Kaataapaki stream which empties into the Waikato River. Photo / Belinda Feek

Hamilton City Council (HCC) was found guilty of knowingly discharging sewage into the environment over a nine-day period in October 2020.

It is estimated that during this period, 1,272,000 liters of sewage was lost to the Te Awa O Katapaki stream in Flagstaff which empties into the Waikato River. That’s about half the volume of an Olympic swimming pool.

HCC was fined $76,500 with the sentence imposed by District Court Judge Melinda Dickey last week.

The lawsuit was brought by the Waikato Regional Council, the environmental regulator for the Waikato region.

The sewage spill was first noticed on October 6, 2020 by a consultant and staff member conducting an audit and inspection on behalf of Hamilton City Council.

Regional council compliance officer Patrick Lynch said the HCC knew it was likely the contamination had been happening for some time.

“Despite this knowledge, through a series of communication failures within the city council, the landfill was not stopped until October 12,” Lynch said.

The sewage spill was caused by a blockage of pipes in the Cumberland Drive sewage system due to a buildup of grease, rags and other materials, most of which should not be discharged into the sewage system.

The blockage caused sewage to overflow into the Delia Court stormwater system and then into the Te Awa o Katapaki stream.

HCC, which pleaded guilty to the charge, apologized and began system improvements. The council also participated in a restorative justice process to recognize the impact and effect of the dump on tangata whenua and other river and stream users.

Hamilton’s managing director of infrastructure operations, Eeva-Liisa Wright, said: ‘No discharge of sewage into the environment is acceptable, and we are taking all necessary steps to reduce the risk of similar occurrences. do not reproduce.”

The council said it was unable to escalate the issue sooner due to a breakdown in its reporting processes.

Lynch says the deal was unfortunate since the city council maintained the very large sewage system “very well from a regulatory and environmental point of view”.

“However, in this case, they dropped the ball, resulting in preventable releases of large volumes of contaminants into a tributary of Te Awa O Katapaki Creek in Flagstaff,” Lynch said.

Hamilton City Council was fined $76,500, 90% payable to the WRC and 10% to the Crown.  Photo / Provided
Hamilton City Council was fined $76,500, 90% payable to the WRC and 10% to the Crown. Photo / Provided

HCC has since identified areas for improvement to reduce the risk of blockages and overflows, including sewage trend analysis and community education.

The council also ensures that the point in the sewerage system from which excess sewage can escape, known as overflow points, are either monitored and alarmed remotely or removed.

There are 24 overflow points in the city’s sewage system of which 15 have now been removed, including that at Delia Court.

For four overflow points that cannot be removed, HCC is testing remote monitoring technology.

Wright says the Waikato River was an important part of the city’s identity and a source of pride.

“We are a river city, and the Waikato River and its tributaries make our city special… They are important to the local iwi and a taonga for all, deserving our utmost respect and care,” Wright said.

Lynch says the sentencing was “a very clear reminder” to any company or council that handles large volumes of contaminants as part of their business.

“They need to have the right infrastructure in place, manage that infrastructure well, and make sure they take immediate action to mitigate any release that occurs into the environment.”

Wastewater includes sewage from domestic and commercial premises and includes a range of potential contaminants. Wastewater is a subset of wastewater that is contaminated with urine or feces.

The HCC must pay 90% of the fine to the regional council and the remaining 10% to the Crown.

If you see, hear or smell anything worrying in our waterways, the advice says, please call 07 838 6699. Issues can also be reported using the Antenno app or by sending an email. -email to [email protected]

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