What does Policy 23 mean for discharges of untreated human sewage?
Policy 23 of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS) concerns the discharge of contaminants, including human sewage. Policy 23(2)(a) is strong direction against discharges of untreated human sewage to water in the coastal environment. It signals that very clear justification should underpin any provision for discharge of untreated sewage to water in the coastal environment. However, it is not a rule, and does not mean that resource consent applications that involve discharges of untreated human sewage cannot be approved. Nor does it mean that such discharges must be classified as prohibited activities in regional coastal plans and regional plans.
As with all management of natural and physical resources, particular situations must be looked at in context. In relation to activities involving the discharge of human sewage the relevant context will include location, frequency, duration, volume, level of treatment, and the extent to which the discharge is the best practicable option (within a relevant timeframe). Relevant matters will vary according to the source of a discharge (e.g. from a treatment plant, or an overflow from a reticulation network) and whether it is in the course of normal operation or caused by an anticipated and perhaps unavoidable operational disruption (such as a blockage, power interruption or overflows in some wet weather events). There is a continuum that should result in different discharges of human sewage being dealt with differently within plans, both in policies and activity classifications (rules), and through the determination of resource consent applications. Clause 4 of Policy 23 provides particular direction in respect of discharges involving both sewage and stormwater.
Policy 23 should also be considered together with objectives and other policies in the NZCPS 2010 which address issues of discharge, water quality and infrastructure. The complete statutory framework for RMA decision making in relation to discharges both in relation to plans and consent applications applies. Sections 69 and 70 of the RMA provide some direction for rules and sections 107 and 108(2)(e) and (8) provide guidance for resource consents and conditions.