Human Error To Blame For Wastewater Release


In our regular catch up with Raglan Community Board Chair Dennis Amoore, he offers a summary of the outcomes from the Community Wastewater Hui that took place on the evening of Thursday, November 2.

After two unanticipated discharges of treated wastewater into the Whāingaroa Harbour during the incoming tide, (within a span of two weeks and without prior notification,) representatives from the Waikato District Council convened a community meeting to clarify the reasons behind these incidents and outline the measures being taken to fix the situation.

At the meeting, attended by approximately 70 people, WDC staff clarified that the problems were linked to the programming logic of the discharge plant's alerting system. They explained that the Programming Logic Controller (PLC), despite being computerised, depends on human input for data programming, making it susceptible to human errors. Following the first discharge incident, the initial programming issues had been resolved. However, additional un-found errors led to the second incident.

The meeting was attended by representatives from Watercare, WDC and Waikato Regional Council as well as Cr Lisa Thomson and RCB members. To resolve the programming issues, decisions were made to enhance data validation procedures, including implementing additional checks involving multiple individuals and systems to scrutinise the technical programming language being used.

Watercare and Council have also indicated that they are creating more alarms on the system itself to identify any anomalies and add another layer of checks. The current alarm system failed because it was dependent on the same faulty programming.

Dennis says that they have inherited an old system that relies on these programming logics and that there are always going to be possibilities that unanticipated discharges occur again in future. However, he hopes that with the extra layers of checks and alarms, these spills are prevented.

Watercare manages the three waters infrastructure here in the Waikato district alongside WDC and the Water Governance Board and have been working on a land-based discharge solution for the Raglan Wastewater network over the past few years. Raglan’s wastewater discharge consent expired in 2020 and an interim consent was requested to provide WDC with the necessary time to explore sustainable, long-term solutions that align with the environmental concerns and cater to the expanding Raglan community's requirements. 

Under the current temporary consent, wastewater discharges are only allowed during the outgoing tide and the council are required to notify the public if there is a discharge on the incoming tide. Staff at the meeting said that the water quality of the discharged material is still within the tolerances of the consent and that warnings against swimming and collecting shellfish in the harbour are generally a precautionary measure so that the public can make an informed choice.

Land Based Wastewater Discharge Solution

Local iwi, the Raglan community and stakeholders strongly favour a land-based discharge option, which has been under investigation for years. Since 2019, with the assistance of Watercare, WDC have explored alternative options. These investigations have been time-consuming due to complex technical, environmental, and cultural considerations, involving cost assessments and cultural and environmental concerns.

Dennis says that there are a significant number of infrastructure upgrades that need to take place around the Waikato District, which all come with big price tags. Raglan’s new system alone costs somewhere in the vicinity of $20 million.

According to Dennis, planning around Raglan’s new system is in its advanced stages with approved funding. The project is currently at the tender phase, and there are ongoing  negotiations with landowners to secure a suitable location for the land-based discharge system.

Raglan Structure Plan

A significant number of community members have been urging the council to establish a comprehensive Raglan Structure Plan. This plan would serve as a guiding framework for future growth and infrastructure development. A structure plan could, for instance, set requirements for land developers to contribute to infrastructure enhancements - like wastewater -  or allocate land for community facilities within their development.

WDC have said that the inclusion of a Raglan structure plan in the Long-Term Plan (LTP) is under consideration as part of a funding proposal for local area plans over the next decade. These plans could be structure plans or other types, depending on the specific community needs, such as town centre or growth node focus. The LTP funding for this will be confirmed in June 2024. 

The priority for Raglan or other communities has not been determined yet, but Raglan's request for strategic/spatial planning is being acknowledged. WDC says that regardless of whether it's a structure plan or another plan, developers will have a role in shaping development, but it should align with the Council's growth framework and community input. Key connections, infrastructure, and facilities need to be provided in accordance with the District Plan and Council's growth strategy.

Dennis has indicated that discussions with other RCB members and council staff around future plans, such as roading, has led to talks around developing our own mini structure plan that is community-led and identifies future community needs and priorities.

One of the discussions that popped up was around the single-lane bridge, particularly after a bustling Labour Day Weekend when traffic backed up from the bridge into Raglan township. Dennis points out that this congestion occurs about 10 days a year. While there are ongoing talks regarding a potential two-lane bridge, it's essential to consider the fluctuating patterns of visitors to Raglan. On regular days, residents shouldn’t encounter major road and parking problems, as these issues primarily arise when the town experiences a substantial surge in visitors. He highlights that these fluctuations also put pressure on things like wastewater, drinking water and parking.

Dennis says that it’s unlikely to see a Raglan Structure Plan included in the council’s priorities over the next three years despite the growth projections for our town - potentially one of the highest growth rates in the district.

The Raglan Community Board’s next meeting is due to be held on Wednesday 29th November from 1.30pm in the Raglan Town Hall Supper Room and for more information and updates  around Raglan’s wastewater system visit the council website here.