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1. Introduction

1.1 Background

On-site wastewater systems provide treatment of domestic wastewater and return it to the environment within the boundaries of the property of origin. It has been estimated that in some regions at least 20 per cent of homes rely on on-site wastewater treatment. This can include primary, secondary and tertiary treatment systems. Septic tanks are mainly primary treatment systems and represent the majority of on-site wastewater systems installed in New Zealand.

In many areas wastewater systems do not provide an adequate level of treatment and are adversely affecting human health and the environment. Failing systems can:

  • contribute to lakes, rivers, estuaries and beaches becoming unfit for swimming, gathering seafood and marine farming

  • lead to contamination of groundwater and surface water supplies, affecting the quality of drinking water supplies, and may increase the occurrence of algal blooms.

These effects occur because of a range of factors, including poor maintenance, sensitive receiving environments (lakes, rivers, streams, etc), high-density residential areas, shallow groundwater and unsuitable soil types. Regular inspection and maintenance can play a significant role in improving the performance of wastewater systems.

In response, the Government is considering developing a national environmental standard (regulations) for the inspection and maintenance of on-site wastewater systems.

1.2 The proposed standard

The aim of the proposed National Environmental Standard for On-site Wastewater Systems (the NES) is to improve the management and environmental performance of domestic on-site wastewater systems. In essence, the proposal is that:

Owners of properties with on-site wastewater systems in specific locations will be required to hold a current warrant of fitness that confirms their on-site system is functioning properly and is being maintained to an appropriate standard.

The standard would authorise regional councils to require property owners with an on-site wastewater system to hold a current warrant of fitness (WOF) for their system. To obtain a WOF, a system would be required to pass an inspection every three years. Regional councils would identify the areas where the standard would apply.

1.3 Feedback on the proposed standard

A discussion document and a separate two-page summary setting out details of the proposed standard were released for public comment on 19 July 2008. Public notices regarding the discussion document and the submission period were placed in major newspapers on the same day. (A copy of the public notice is included in Appendix 1 of this report.) The notices informed people about:

  • the subject matter of the proposed standard

  • the Minister’s reasons for considering the proposals are consistent with the purposes of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA)

  • how people could make a submission

  • the deadline for submissions.

A total of 700 discussion documents were sent out to interested parties, including individuals, community groups, iwi, councils and industry. A further 500 copies of the two-page summary sheet were also distributed to interested parties and used to advertise the public workshops. The submission period ran for 10 weeks from 19 July 2008, closing on 26 September 2008.

During the submission period 14 public workshops were held throughout New Zealand. Public notices were placed in local papers ahead of workshops in an attempt to attract as many people to the workshops as possible. Altogether, around 300 people attended the workshops, asked questions and gave their feedback on the proposed standard. The workshop notes have been collected in table form and sorted under recurring themes (see Appendix 2). The feedback received during the workshops will be taken into account in the further analysis of the proposal.

1.4 Purpose of this document

This document presents an overview of the written submissions received on the proposed NES for on-site wastewater systems. One hundred and thirty-five submissions were received (see Appendix 4 for a list of submitters). The discussion document posed 22 questions for discussion (see Appendix 3). Submitters also raised additional issues, the main ones of which are discussed in a special themes section at the end of this document.

This report is intended to provide a concise summary of the views expressed. It is not intended to analyse those views or make recommendations in response to the submissions. This will be done in a separate report.

1.5 NES development process

An outline of the NES development process, including the informal and formal submission stages, is shown in figure 1. The Ministry has completed the public process stage, and the release of this report on submissions marks the end of the submission stage.

Figure 1: National environmental standards development process

The flowchart shows the different steps involved in developing a standard: The public process comprises the informal process in which the proposal is scoped with stakeholders and the discussion document is developed, and the formal process, which consists of the public and iwi notification and the submission period. After the close of submissions the submissions are analysed and a summary of submissions report prepared (that is the where we are now). This is followed by the final proposal to the Minister. The Minister then consults colleagues, after that the standard is legally drafted and finally the draft becomes regulation.