QLDC committing to 'seven more years' of pollution with Bullock Creek delay

by Kim Bowden - May 22, 2023

The Queenstown Lakes District Council is being accused of putting a “serious failure of stormwater management in the too-hard basket”, and committing a Wānaka creek to another seven years of pollution.

Speaking on behalf of the Friends of Bullock Creek environmental group, Nancy Latham today urged councillors to reconsider delaying a $6 million stormwater upgrade project that would divert stormwater and contaminants away from Bullock Creek and, ultimately, Lake Wānaka.

A silt-laden Bullock Creek empties into Lake Wānaka at Roy's Bay after heavy rain. Fish and Game says land development in its headwaters has made the water quality in the spring-fed creek much more 'variable'.

“We find this deferral baffling and absolutely unacceptable,” Ms Latham told councillors, speaking at a hearing for annual plan submissions held in Wānaka today.

“This spring-fed creek was pristine before urban development first started in the headwaters in August 2015.”

She is talking about the Alpha Series subdivision. For years, the group has been documenting how the spring-fed Bullock Creek and surrounding properties get hammered by silt-laden floodwaters flowing from the subdivision during heavy rain.

The project on the chopping block in this year’s budget would see an overflow pipe from the subdivision’s stormwater holding pond through to a yet-to-be-constructed soakage wetland at the A&P showgrounds.

It is no silver bullet to the issue of sediment run-off into neighbouring creeks and the lake, but it would be an improvement on the status quo.

The council is proposing pushing out the project to 2030 – just one of a number of planned deferments in an attempt to shave costs in a budget-building context of inflationary pressures, leaky building settlement pay-outs and double-digit rate rises.

However, Friends of Bullock Creek believe the delay will “create a legacy of seven more years of avoidable stormwater contamination” affecting the ecological health of both Bullock Creek and Roy’s Bay, which it flows into, and a “legacy for future government bodies and future generations to deal with”.

The Otago Fish and Game Council reckon the stormwater upgrade is too important to push out too.

Like Friends of Bullock Creek, it has made a submission on the council’s draft annual plan requesting a rethink of the delay.

Otago Fish and Game are nearby landowners – the Bullock Creek Hatchery Springs Walkway is maintained by them on land they own. It is home to a small urban wetland, a nursery for brown and rainbow trout, sandwiched between increasing urban development.

Otago Fish and Game environmental officer Nigel Paragreen says they’ve watched the waterway change significantly in the last decade.

“It’s been very well documented as the subdivisions came in, and rain events happen, the creek’s gone from quite a stable spring-fed creek to one that is much more variable…more rain-fed.”

Fish and Game is also seeing its land flood.

“Our staff and councillors have no recollection of this happening prior to the subdivision…So that in and of itself should have warning bells.”

The proposed pipe to divert stormwater would pass through Otago Fish and Game’s land, but a read of the draft annual plan was the first the organisation was alerted to of the council’s planned deferment of the upgrade.

“It’s one simple line item, there’s not really any analysis. It’s quite a big, big thing to just be inserted in a table unceremoniously.”

Mr Paragreen says it is not optional for the QLDC to do more to protect the health of the district’s waterways.

Otago Regional Council compliance manager Tami Sargeant tells Crux the QLDC was issued with an abatement notice in August regarding discharge of stormwater resulting in flooding of Fish and Game land and unreasonable discolouration of Bullock Creek.

Less than four weeks ago, on April 27, the ORC followed up with an infringement notice for an alleged breach of the abatement notice.

“ORC staff identified stormwater causing flooding of the Otago Fish and Game Council land during proactive monitoring of the area on March 20, 2023,” Ms Sargeant says.

Mr Paragreen says Fish and Game, as well as Friends of Bullock Creek and others in the community, have worked to restore the waterway, and inaction by the council may threaten that work.

“I’d really hate to see that goodwill put at risk by a deferment decision.

“It’s a long-standing issue, and one that needs to be resolved.”

The QLDC has been approached for comment, but no response had been received by time of publication.

Main image (Friends of Bullock Creek annual plan submission): Usually spring-fed Bullock Creek turns brown during heavy rain, one of more than a dozen documented flood events the environmental community group handed on to council decision makers.

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