Wellington Scoop

Significant damage: Regional Council fined $90,000 for discharging sludge into stream

News from Fish and Game New Zealand
Unusual proceedings in the Wellington District Court today saw the regional council prosecuting itself. The Greater Wellington Regional Council was convicted and fined $90,000 for breaches of the Resource Management Act (RMA) in what Justice Dwyer called “careless” actions that caused significant damage to the Birchville Stream in Upper Hutt.

In September 2019, work undertaken by the Regional Council on the decommissioned Birchville Dam resulted in the discharge of vast quantities of silt and sediment into the stream, which flows directly into the prized Hutt River trout fishery.

Birchville Stream is also a known spawning tributary, and as such is protected under the RMA.

Residents and local anglers contacted Wellington Fish & Game to report the incident which killed scores of trout and native fish.

Conducting a site visit in the aftermath, Fish & Game field staff discovered around 500m of the entire bed of the Birchville Stream was smothered in a grey sludge.

“The stream was decimated,” says Wellington Fish & Game manager Phil Teal. “Although small scale, it’s possibly one the worst localised acts of environmental degradation we’ve witnessed for some time.

“Not only had trout, eels and bullies evidently been killed in the flush, but the thick layer of sludge left in the stream would have killed all the aquatic insects, essentially destroying the entire ecology of the stream.”

Fish & Game immediately alerted the council’s environment staff, and it was later discovered that the council was behind the damage.

It could take years for the Birchville Stream to recover, made worse by the fact that the dam reduces natural flushing flows to wash the sediment out.

Mr Teal acknowledges the council for promptly taking responsibility. However, he says it does not appear to have learnt from the mistake.

“Despite the ruling today, the sad aspect is the council has applied for a resource consent for ongoing maintenance works on the Birchville Dam which could involve more flushing events.

“If the council was a good environmental custodian, as the community expects it to be, it would consider options to remove the dam and allow Birchville Stream to revert to its natural state for the benefit of trout and native aquatic species.

“Instead they’re applying for a resource consent to continue the activity under a legal guise.”

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  1. Grant Hay, 22. November 2020, 9:49

    Council are rulers to themselves. Good on Fish and Game for taking the council to court. It’s a pity the payment of the fine didn’t go to Fish and Game for its legal fees.

  2. jamie, 22. November 2020, 19:04

    I think you’ll read that the regional council took itself to court and the judge fined the regional council who paid the fine to the regional council who will then use the money for environmental restoration. In this process there would have been many hours of paid lawyers’ time with council lawyers representing the plaintiff the Regional Council and the defendant the Regional Council. What a pointless money go around, as well as wasting the stretched court’s time.

  3. jamie, 22. November 2020, 19:05

    Generally in these cases there is a person as well as a company fined and convicted. Well that is what normally happens when it isn’t the council taking themselves to court. No one is accountable except for the poor old ratepayer.

  4. Grant Hay, 24. November 2020, 23:02

    Maybe the council should be applying for consent through Fish and Game before they do anything that jeopardises environmental sensitive areas and wasting hard earned taxpayer’s money.