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6. Implementing the Proposed Standard

6.1 How will the proposed standard be implemented?

The default position would place responsibility on regional councils to administer the proposed standard, although functions could be transferred to territorial authorities under section 33 of the RMA. The following steps outline how the proposed standard could be implemented.

Step 1. Regional councils identify the areas where the national environmental standard would apply. To do this they may:

  • undertake a broad-scale risk assessment of their region that considers a range of factors (see Appendix 3 for more information on what needs to be considered)

  • consult with stakeholders within their short-listed areas to make an informed decision on where the proposed standard should and should not apply.

Step 2. The specific areas are gazetted by the Minister for the Environment.

Step 3. Regional councils notify the system owners that they are required to obtain a current warrant of fitness for their on-site system.

Step 4. The system owner arranges for an inspection. Alternatively, the council may choose to schedule the inspection themselves to make efficient use of resources in one area and ensure any outstanding background information on the on-site system is being captured.

Step 5. The inspector carries out an inspection and notifies the owner and the council of the outcome. If a system passes an inspection, the inspector issues the system owner with a warrant of fitness (WOF). The WOF may include recommendations for minor maintenance of the on-site system or formal conditions. If a system fails an inspection, the inspector notifies the owner, gives the reasons for the failure and informs the owner of the actions required to remedy the failure and the time period for doing so.

It will be the system owner’s responsibility to arrange for any problems to be fixed. Once the problems have been fixed, the system owner will contact the inspector to confirm this and a WOF can be issued. This may or may not require an additional inspection, depending on the nature of the remedial action.

6.2 Where will the proposed standard be applied?

The standard would apply to specific areas defined by regional councils and gazetted in the New Zealand Gazette. It would not apply across the entire country, as analysis indicates this approach would be excessively costly and unnecessary where on-site systems don’t cause off-site problems (see Section 7 on cost−benefit analysis). The specific areas to be gazetted would be where there are known problems with on-site systems (hotspots), or environments that are at risk of degradation from an increase in on-site systems if they are not maintained properly, such as locations:

  • with high numbers of failing systems

  • where there is a high risk of environmental degradation or damage from failing systems

  • that have sensitive receiving environments

  • where the cumulative effects of large numbers of on-site systems degrade the environment, or where there is the potential to do so.

The identification of areas where the proposed standard is to apply would be left to councils. A risk-based approach would give councils the flexibility to apply the standard where it would have the greatest benefit, based on environmental consequences and local priorities. It also provides more effective use of the resources needed to implement WOF inspections in the targeted areas.

Appendix 3 contains various parameters that could be included in a risk assessment as a guide to help councils identify specific areas where the proposed standard could be applied. These specific areas or parts of a region will then be formalised by the Minister for the Environment by notice in the Gazette. The process of gazetting will be same as that used for the National Environmental Standard for Air Quality. Councils will have the option to expand the monitoring of on-site systems across the entire district or region if they wish. For example, they may decide to target the most urgent areas first, and then include the remaining areas later to spread costs and resources.

Nearly all the councils spoken to during the development of the issues and options report were able to define areas in their districts or regions where a large proportion of on-site systems are failing (Duffill Watts & King Ltd et al, 2005). A number of these areas are older settlements with ageing systems and small sites, or coastal properties where extensive development is occurring. Next to lack of maintenance high groundwater and poor soils were the most common issues, and it appears that often the system design did not consider these physical environmental constraints.

There are two distinct types of areas that may be identified through a targeted or risk-based approach: hotspots and sensitive areas.

Hotspots are areas with existing problems. A hotspot area could be a community with high numbers of failing systems, or where the cumulative effects of on-site systems are having adverse effects on:

  • water quality, through bacterial or nutrient contamination

  • amenity, through unpleasant odour or pests

  • public health, through surface discharges of untreated or partially treated effluent.

Generally, the drivers for identifying hotspots are concerns around public health or poor water quality. Information may be available through sanitary surveys or complaints, and knowledge of hotspots may be held by either territorial authorities or regional councils. Regional council water-quality monitoring data may also help identify hotspots.

Sensitive areas are where the presence of on-site systems could create an environmental risk. The risk may be the actual or potential (cumulative) adverse effects on water or soils, including those created by current or future development. Sensitive areas would be identified by analysing local environmental conditions to identify areas of potential risk. This is primarily a regional council exercise.

6.3 How will the proposed standard be administered?

Administration of the information gathered under the proposed standard will be important. A database that can track the status of individual systems will be an essential monitoring tool for councils. Ideally, utilising an existing database would be the most effective and efficient option. The Ministry for the Environment is looking at providing a model solution that could be adopted by councils if they choose to, such as the WasteTRACK model that is currently used for tracking liquid waste (see Box 4).

Box 4: WasteTRACK

WasteTRACK is a Ministry for the Environment-supported tracking system that is used to track the movement and disposal of liquid wastes, including domestic septage. The system is an internet-based database with varying levels of access, which allows waste contractors (or potential inspectors) to enter data, and regulatory authorities to view and administer data. Use of WasteTRACK is already a requirement of some councils for transporting liquid wastes, and it provides a model that can be developed for the WOF scheme.

The following web address gives a summary of the WasteTRACK system as it applies to carrying wastes: www.wastetrack.co.nz/

6.4 Who will carry out the inspections?

For the proposed standard to operate effectively there needs to be an adequate pool of suitably skilled (or qualified) inspectors. An inspector will be a competent person, as judged through an industry standard qualification or an accreditation-type process. This will ensure inspectors are accountable and carry out their duties consistently. If the proposed standard proceeds, the Ministry for the Environment will help develop training material for a suitable unit standard-type qualification. The qualification would be supported by a standard checklist and inspector’s manual to refer to when carrying out the inspections, to provide a consistent level of competency for inspectors.

The mechanics of just how the inspectors would be involved in the national environmental standard process have been purposely left open to allow flexibility for councils in terms of how they choose to approach this. Having an independent qualification provides consistency as well as flexibility as to who can carry out inspections.

Council officers could become qualified, which would mean the whole process is managed and operated by the council, or the inspectors could be anyone who chooses to become qualified to undertake the work (eg, 'sucker truck' operators, drain layers). However, there is an issue of whether there would be enough people willing, able and qualified to conduct inspections, which in turn could affect competition and the cost of inspections. Adopting this approach would therefore require adequate lead-in time to ensure there were sufficient qualified inspectors.

6.5 When will the proposed standard be implemented?

The proposed standard would provide for a phased implementation of the WOF inspection in each region according to site-specific factors and specified timelines. A deadline for councils to identify targeted areas for gazetting could be 12 months after the regulations come into force. A timeframe for all systems within targeted areas to be inspected (or hold a WOF) from commencement of standard could be three years.

Questions

  1. Should the proposed standard apply to targeted areas as proposed, or across the whole of New Zealand?
  2. Do you agree with the risk assessment methodology and the proposed criteria for identifying targeted areas?
  3. Do you see any problems with the implementation and administration of the proposed standard?
  4. What would be an appropriate training level for inspectors/certifiers? Is a unit standard qualification for inspectors an appropriate method for ensuring consistency of inspectors?