New era for Waimakariri River clean-up

Silver Fern Farms at Belfast has cleaned up its act.

Meat processing firms have for decades poured brown sludge into the Waimakariri River, north of Christchurch.

Silver Fern Farms, Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury last week celebrated the end of a project to replace a pipe discharging treated wastewater into the river.

Wastewater from Silver Fern’s Belfast meat processing plant now goes to the council’s treatment plant at Bromley. 

Environment Canterbury resource management director Kim Drummond says it was the last industrial discharge into the waterway, which is a popular fishing area.

Solid waste from the plant is composted and sold to garden centres as Bioblend.

The investment in appropriate disposal methods has been the result of many years of public pressure.

A newspaper article from 1990 reports how locals regularly gagged on the smell of sewage fungus which blocked whitebait nets and stuck to the hulls of boats, setting like concrete when dry.

Only foolish or ignorant people would dare to swim below the discharge pipe on the main highway bridge.

Some of the locals who fought long and hard over the years have since died.

Long-time resident Wally Clark, former zoology professor at Canterbury University, appeared at endless resource consent hearings to argue the case for cleaning up the river.

Betty Symonds headed the Waimakariri River Protection Society, with the backing of the surf and sailing club, salmon anglers and other groups.

But, most often, panel commissioners believed it was a choice of jobs or the environment.

The biggest challenges facing the Waimakariri now are depletion of water by irrigation, and agricultural run-off.