Wastewater Treatment Plant - 3 April 2016
About time I commented on this ... sorry
Because of the wet industries here in Whanganui, we essentially carry the effluent load of a city of 300,000 people. Our circumstances are quite unusual, not totally unique, but not commonly found. The wastewater treatment experts tasked with finding a solution to our debacle were given the directive that as much of the previous plant as possible should be used. Now I don't necessarily agree with that, given my investment background. You don't throw good money after bad, even given the inclination to try to reduce the damage done - you run the real risk of digging the hole deeper (no pun intended).
Ten or so alternatives were considered, some were variations on a theme. Incineration, which was an early favourite of mine incidentally because although it used large amounts of energy produced even more energy, failed on account of its impact on the environment. The scenario was affected too when late in the peace we discovered that the landfill companies were becoming wary about accepting wet sludge because of leeching and could raise their charges significantly. The huge build-up of sludge in the Whanganui plant was the main reason for its failure.
There were faults on both sides in terms of the original designers and of Council. That went to Court and there has been a resolution. Essentially, the plant was deemed not fit for purpose and that was the overriding factor in the decision. From being at the mercy of the landfill cos, all intertwined, we have added a dryer at the cost of $7m. The dryer reduces the volume of wet sludge from 18,000 tonnes to 4,000 tonnes of dried sludge with all the toxicities removed and three options for disposal and pays for itself within three years. From being in a position of a taker of costs at huge risk and/or at the risk of no one taking the wet sludge, we are now in control with a variety of options. The dried pellets will now be non-toxic and can be applied to land for example.
We were also under a time constraint to make a decision. The jury is currently out, but it is likely we will have a maximum of three years to have the new plant up and operating with our in the meantime pumping the effluent out to sea. Iwi understandably see that as unconscionable. The new plant should be affordable. The dryer brings annual operating expenses, which were turning out to be the killer, down by $2.3m per year. The worst year in terms of rate rises to pay for the plant which from memory is Year 3 is 5-6 per cent, not the 13% first envisaged. Pan taxes, according to a Massey University study, could/should be affordable. If we cost it on the basis of the municipality requires a WWTP anyway, and therefore industry takes the marginal cost, that creates possibilities. What remains is that the split between industry and the municipality still needs to be negotiated.
Compromises from both parties will need to occur for the city to move ahead.
My statement at Council in support of the new plant - 9 March 2016
HERZBERG AND THE WWTP
A lot of you will have heard of Herzberg’s Motivation vs Hygiene Theory, now 50 years old. For those of you who haven’t, basically you have hygiene factors which you only miss if they’re not there – for example, pun not-intended, a wastewater treatment plant – compared to motivation factors which spur you on and help you thrive.
Ten years ago Council decided to get REALLY experimental with its wastewater treatment plant – a very basic hygiene factor - and an abysmal failure. Consequently we have a case decided in our favour, since the resulting plant wasn’t fit for the purpose intended.
Whanganui is striving to be “leading edge” and we’re winning – check out the Top 7 placing in the international Intelligent Communities Award. But it doesn’t mean that we need to be “leading edge” with the wastewater treatment plant technology that we select. As a Council we won’t be thanked for undertaking yet another experiment on something as fundamental as a wastewater treatment plant.
We are choosing a tried-and-true technology within cost ranges which, with a bit of work and negotiation, should be acceptable to the Whanganui community and industry and, just as importantly, gives us a range of many disposal options so as not to be at the mercy of external parties, i.e. land-fill operations or otherwise and their decision as to whether our sludge meets their quality requirements or what they might charge - which triggered the latest reconsideration.
This is as much about risk containment as it is about keeping costs to a minimum. It’s very pleasing to hear the latest major reductions in ongoing operational costs which mean the dryer pays for itself in three years. The suggested alternatives ironically put us at greater risk of major cost blow-outs. And we need to act now within a three-year timeframe which is the likely maximum timeframe available to us – these recent diversions which can only affect a fraction of the total cost are adding exponentially to the risk.
We can be “leading edge” here in meeting the ever-rising environmental expectations and also importantly those of our community including iwi.