Opinion  |  5 Nov 2020

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.

Councillor Pauline Cotter is Chair of the Three Waters Infrastructure and Environment Committee.

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.

Water matters

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.

Flood protection work

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.

Working together

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.

Did you know?

  • Waste management accounts for 5.7 per cent of Christchurch City Council’s spending, with $551 million budgeted in the 2018-28 Long Term Plan.
  • Some 480,000 wheelie bins are provided to residents as part of the three bin kerbside collection service. Through that service the Council collects 34,293 tonnes of material for recycling, 51,706 tonnes of organic material for processing into compost, and 44,525 tonnes of rubbish, which goes to landfill.
  • Christchurch’s water supply network is valued at $2.87 billion.
  • It provides water to about 160,000 homes and businesses through seven urban water supply schemes and six rural water supply schemes. Between 50 and 55 billion litres of water a year is supplied - the equivalent of around 22,000 full Olympic size swimming pools.
  • The water supply network is made up of more than 3648km of water pipes, 129 pumping stations, 172 wells and well heads, 108 reservoirs or tanks and six water treatment plants.
  • Christchurch’s wastewater assets are valued at $5.1 billion.
  • The Council collects wastewater from about 160,000 customers in Christchurch, Lyttelton, Diamond Harbour, Governors Bay, Akaroa, Duvauchelle, Tikao Bay and Wainui.
  • It treats this wastewater at eight treatment plants and disposes the treated wastewater into the sea and to land irrigation schemes.
  • The key assets the Council manages in relation to wastewater collection, treatment and disposal include 2905km of wastewater pipes, 30,817 manholes, 2078 local pressure sewer tanks, 245 wastewater pump stations, 34 odour control sites, eight wastewater treatment plants, one ocean outfall, six harbour outfalls and two land irrigation schemes.
  • Christchurch’s land drainage network is valued at $2.1 billion.
  • The stormwater network collects and carries stormwater during rainfall events. It includes 915km of pipes, 24,312 manholes and sumps, 2429km of natural waterways such as rivers, streams and creeks, 110km of engineered drainage channels, 123 pumping stations, 12km of stop banks, three tide gates and 127 soak pits.