Oceania Dairy Ltd is waiting to learn whether it will be allowed to discharge treated wastewater into the sea near its Glenavy milk factory.

Oceania, which is owned by China’s Inner Mongolia Yili Industrial Group, has lodged six resource consent applications with ECan to build a 7.5km pipeline to send up to 10,000cu m a day into the sea.

The pipeline proposal attracted 127 submissions – 118 opposed, support, and three neutral hearing, originally scheduled for April but delayed by Covid-19, was held in Waimate on July 20-23.

At the hearing, ECan consent planner Kelly Walker told the panel of commissioners that because of outstanding issues relating to treatment of the wastewater and the cultural impact of the discharge, she recommended consent be turned down.

Other submissions in opposition included Te Runanga o Arowhenua, which said it was “cultural abhorrence” to discharge wastewater, however it was treated, into natural water.

The Waitaki Irrigators Collective wanted Oceania to analyse all options. Discharging wastewater to any waterway seemed contrary to the positive environmental changes and investment made within the region, it said.

The Morven Glenavy Ikawai irrigation company supported the proposal, saying discharging wastewater on to the land during winter and rainfall was not sustainable.

Oceania’s lawyer this week hit back at criticism from Environment Canterbury officers’ reports and the hearing into the proposal.

In Oceania’s right of reply, lawyer Ewan Chapman, said Oceania was being portrayed as unresponsive to submissions because it had a “gold standard” of water treatment in its initial design.

“With hindsight, holding a form of treatment back, then proposing this design at hearing, would have satisfied the council that the applicant had recognised that improved systems of treatment or measurement were available to it.”

Oceania had agreed to more stringent water-quality standards at the discharge point, which would make it higher than any other consents in the Canterbury Bight, he said.

“A discharge from Oceania, subject to stringent water quality outcomes, is an immeasurable improvement on that milk being processed elsewhere.”

Environmental scientist Dr Nathaniel Wilson did not believe the discharge would contribute to algal bloom development off the Canterbury coast, Mr Chapman said.

He was concerned that ECan coastal water quality and ecology senior scientist Lesley Bolton-Ritchie’s opposition to the Oceania discharge was “significantly different” from the position she took on the Fonterra Studholme discharge.

“There appears to be no reason to treat this application, with better treatment, differently.”

And despite iwi management plans suggesting “all discharges should cease”, they did not override the plan and policy statement under which ECan must operate, Mr Chapman said.

He maintained the evidence was “very clear” that the culturally significant Waitaki River mouth, Waihao Box and Wainono Lagoon would not be affected.

Oceania would use the ocean outfall as “an alternative with better environmental outcomes” than discharge to land when the soil was saturated, soil temperatures were low, or rain was forecast, he said.

The next step was up to the commissioners, who would either close the hearing or ask more questions.

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