Cleaner waterways, a chlorine-free water supply, and a collaborative approach to creating a better environment are on the agenda for Councillor Pauline Cotter as she looks to the next 10 years in Christchurch.
Christchurch has emerged from the earthquakes a greener city. We are treasuring our natural environment more and celebrating the beauty of our rivers and streams.
When I travel around the city I am proud of how beautiful it looks and of the growing evidence of its biodiversity. I love that you can now see eels and fish in the Avon and native birds in the trees.
As we start to put together our Long Term Plan for the next 10 years we need to look at how we can cement our environmental gains and protect our natural taonga for our kids and grandkids.
As a city we need to find ways of reducing our waste so that we tread more lightly on the environment. Recently, the Council adopted a new Waste Minimisation and Management Plan that sets out how we plan to challenge our throw-away culture and reduce the amount of material going to landfill.
I want to make sure that plan is backed up with action so that we move closer towards having a circular economy where products are re-used or recycled rather than thrown away.
One of the greatest taonga we have is our water. We need to think about how we can protect our water supply from contamination and how we can manage demand for water during the times when consumption is high.
Residential properties in Christchurch get a generous daily water allowance which is calculated based on the capital value of their property. As part of this year’s Annual Plan process the Council looked at a introducing a user-pays excess water charge for those who use well in excess of their water allowance.
There was public support for making excess water users pay for what they use, but in the end we decided against it because some Councillors, myself included, wanted more work done on how the water allowance is calculated.
It is an issue that could be revisited as we develop our LTP. A fair, equitable user-pays charging system for excessive water use could help us recover some of the costs of our water supply network. More importantly, it could help us to better manage the high demand for water over summer without the need for water restrictions.
Ensuring there is a safe, reliable supply of drinking water is one of the Council’s core functions. In the past two years we have spent millions of dollars upgrading the city’s water supply network, upgrading well heads, drilling new and deeper wells, repairing reservoirs and replacing older pipes.
However, we still have more work to do. We need to improve our infrastructure and our risk management systems to demonstrate to central government and to health officials that our water supply is secure and safe to drink without chlorine treatment. This will require ongoing investment.
The Government’s water reforms do add an element of uncertainty to how water services in Christchurch will be delivered in the long-term, so there are lots of conversations still to come about water.
We need to continue to invest in the underground sewer network that collects wastewater from homes and businesses and carries it to treatment plants, where contaminants are removed so that it can be safely released back into the natural environment.
In the past few years we have been making big improvements to the network. Our focus has been on improving resilience and reducing sewage overflows into rivers and streams. We are also trying to stop discharging treated wastewater into our harbours.
We have a plan in place to get treated wastewater out of Lyttelton Harbour but we are still working on how we can stop the direct discharge of treated wastewater into Akaroa Harbour.
Over the next 10 years work to reduce the flood risk across Christchurch is likely to remain a priority because we need to address both the change in ground levels caused by the earthquakes and the predicted impact of sea-level rise.
This work brings with it big opportunities. Much of the flood mitigation work that needs to be done over the next decade will involve creating new wetlands and basins to provide additional storage for stormwater during high rainfall areas.
These new areas will act as a natural filtration system for the stormwater so that by time it reaches our waterways it should be relatively clean, which should, in turn, improve the health of our rivers and streams.
The new wetlands and basins also offer us an opportunity to create new recreation areas for people to enjoy and new habitats for birds and other wildlife.
Christchurch was one of the first cities in New Zealand to declare a climate change and ecological emergency and I am a strong advocate for cleaning up our waterways and protecting our ecology.
Our financial constraints though mean that in this LTP we are going to need to look increasingly at partnerships and how we can do things in collaboration with our communities. This city is full of groups who are working hard to protect the environment for future generations and as a Council we should be working alongside them.
I hope that during the engagement on the Long Term Plan groups will come to us and talk about how we can help each other because it is by working together that we will achieve great things for our city.
* Councillor Pauline Cotter is Chair of Christchurch City Council's Three Waters Infrastructure and Environment Committee.