Abattoir gets all clear on dumping waste in river

In a remarkable decision that runs against what the public wants, a company has been granted a resource consent to discharge waste down a river.

he controversial decision to allow an abattoir to dump their waste in a Christchurch river, is being met with disgust.

ECAN’s independent commissioners have allowed Silver Fern Farms a five year emergency consent – with stringent terms and conditions.

The commissioners say they gave little weight to a petition bearing thousands of signatures against the move, because expert evidence shows the effect would be ‘no more than minor.’

Despite impassioned protests from locals and a lengthy hearing process, they’re now able to dump waste into the Waimakariri River when the Bromley sewage plant’s being fixed.

The appeal process runs until 10th.

A river is a community asset, and it shouldn’t be used by a single company to discharge waste.  That’s what we used to do.  We’re all about cleaning up our waterways and improving the quality of our environment.

One of the people involved in trying to get this consent withdrawn told me some interesting information:  

Hi Cam,

The decision is out – Silver Fern Farms can use the Waimak river to dump waste if required. It came out on the 20th with the right of appeal closing on 10 January. Nicely timed over the Christmas break making it hard work to lodge an appeal. This time frame is concerning.

SFF are just another business trying to get a job done. Unfortunately that often clouds good social and moral judgement. None of their hearing material indicated a loss of jobs, more a loss of profit if their waste and storm water reaches capacity.

Yes a lot of your commenters are correct. The waste is treated. The waste is minimal. However it is still industrial waste – you can’t drink it without getting very sick (I’d dare a SFF rep to try). It is still going to be dumped into an iconic NZ river. They do not know nor can they predict how many days this will occur.

There will be a sign up saying ‘ Warning industrial waste discharged here’ that is going to be great for the tourism industry. There is no requirement to directly notify surfers, fisherman and other river users and the like when it occurs, they could very well get a small sip of the waste on the outgoing or a returning tide. No one can say for sure this won’t happen.

There is to be no compensation to other river users – what about some money in a river trust for future river improvements?

The consent allows for treated waste with up to 1000 cpu/100ml of E Coli. Check out the national water standard for E Coli :

“540 – 1,000 You shouldn’t swim in it, but you can wade in it with less than a 5% chance of infection”

Is this OK to be putting into our rivers in any quantity? Christchurch does have a massive water pollution problem.

Do we really need more?

The whole concept of letting one company negatively affect the water quality of a river just so that they can make more profit is abhorrent.  On that basis, everyone else can justify dumping their waste somewhere.

Councils and businesses (including farmers) need to stop treating our rivers as open sewers to fill with their muck just so they can avoid additional cost to their business.  They are spreading an operational cost by making the public wear it.

This has to stop.


– Jenny Woods, Newstalk ZB.  Daniel Abel.


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  • Sunshine

    No silver fern farms products in my shopping trolley from now on. They portray themselves as clean green and really are just like any food industry – profits before ethics.

    • peterwn

      Other abattoirs and freezing companies most probably have similar consents in place. The general issue here is it is extremely difficult to deal with all the vagaries of nature, so while emergency discharges can be minimised they cannot be completely prevented in the real world. The resource consent was granted in this case for this very reason – to deal with exceptional conditions. There seems to be a very high probability here the consent will never be exercised. So IMO the objectors are being excessively idealistic and unreasonable.

      Similar considerations apply to ordinary domestic sewage. It frequently has to be pumped uphill, and despite the best efforts of councils flows do increase during periods of heavy rainfall. So each pumping station and some other key points will have an escape facility which hopefully will never be used, but occasionally they have to be used to cover maintenance. Otherwise very heavy capital expenditure would have to be incurred. These points are covered by resource consents. They do not allow ‘open season’. For example a power failure may be an inadequate excuse, so a backup generator may have to be installed.

  • In Vino Veritas

    Hmm. I’d humbly suggest that the ChCh Council has got their finger in the pie here. It is their sewage plant that is going to be closed. So it could just be that the Council is liable for SFF losses if they cannot dispose of their waste. And they wouldn’t want to be paying a cent. Easy way out, allow dumping in the Waimak.

  • Justsayn

    They have miscalculated the appeal period, and the associated criticism of the timing as some deliberate attempt to make life harder is misguided (or a little paranoid).

    They have 15 working days within which to file an appeal in the Environment Court (s121 of the RMA). “Working days” in the RMA excludes 20 December to 10 Jan, so their last day is around 30 Jan (s2(1) “working day”).

    In effect, releasing it on the eve of the Christmas shut down may make it harder to get expert advice, or to organise a group of opponents, but does about double the usual appeal period.

  • Angus Robertson

    Christchurch sewage treatment cannot cope when it rains, raw untreated sewage runs out into the coastal waters. This consent is a solution that will significantly reduce the discharge of raw sewage into the waters of Canterbury.

    This “story” is an fine example of grade A1 “journalism”.

  • Talking with Environmental Engineers who design water treatment and waste water treatment for industrial waste clients around the country – their comments are that industrial waste is approx. 50 times more toxic / hazardous than sewerage.

    And no ordinary treatment plant can simply be brought off the shelf so to speak and would need to be designed and built.

    Discharging to a river would be the most economical cost outcome for SFF…

    But will SFF use some of their profits to clean up downstream?

  • Rocket

    On this issue I am completely in agreement with Cam. And I don’t like Dodgy Socialist Dams either. Now if Mr.WO could please stop calling me a “road maggot”, I will have a happy Xmas indeed.

  • Platinum Fox

    From what I have read, the discharge will only occur when Bromley is unable to take SFF’s treated waste because the council’s system is overloaded by storm water which has leaked into the council sewers due to earthquake damage. At those rare times, the Waimak itself is likely to be in flood so there is little likelihood of surfers, swimmers, fishermen or boaties being at risk as the waste will be rapidly diluted and swept out to sea.

    I’d be more concerned if partially treated waste needed to be discharged from Bromley.

  • cows4me

    Radio announcer this afternoon telling all that plan to go to beaches this Christmas to go to every beach in NZ except those surrounding Auckland. I guess the beach off Waimakariri river got a pass in the report. “A river is a community asset”, so is a beach. Perhaps some pulpit bashing wouldn’t go a miss in your own back yard, much easier saying look over there isn’t it?

  • Excitedly awaiting Whodunnit

    Just shows Money talks and … well, we the general public get given it while touching our toes again.

  • TreeCrusher

    I’ve given up trying to bring reason to this particular article as it seems many, Ill-informed people are happy to leave their head buried in the ideological sand, so to speak, rather than listen to what experts have to say about the matter.

    All I can say now is that I am glad the small voice of the experts were listened to this time rather than the cacophony from lay people.

    It is unfortunate, however, that Cam has chosen the side of the fence usually reserved for the likes of the Greens in not listening to what experts have to say and instead persist with an ill-informed ideology.