Manawatu River – pollution concerns date back to 1890

In light of recent media coverage concerning the polluted state of the Manawatu River [click here to view TV news coverage], it is insightful to look back at the river’s history. Even a casual perusal of Papers Past indicates that the vexed issue of pollution of the Manawatu is certainly not a new one.

An article in the Manawatu Herald of 30 May 1890 reports on a meeting held by representatives of local bodies alarmed about Palmerston North Borough Council’s decision to let a contract to discharge the town’s sewerage  into the river. The following are two excerpts:

“[Foxton Mayor] Mr Gower said : The business for this meeting to discuss is the fact that the Borough Council of Palmerston N. have let a contract to convey the sewage of that town into the Manawatu river. It will be for us to consider what steps shall be taken to stop such action…… I will ask that a Barristers’ opinion be obtained to ascertain the legal position of the various protesting bodies in regard to preventing the discharge of unfiltered sewage from the Borough of Palmerston North into the Manawatu river…”

An article, entitled “Palmerston Sewerage”, and published in the Herald 10 years later, suggests that Mr Gower and his colleagues were unsuccessful in their efforts to stop the Borough Council from proceeding with its work to discharge sewerage into the river.

This leads to the question, what has happened in the intervening 110 years to lead to the Manawatu River having the unenviable position of being identified as one of the worst polluted rivers in the Western world?* The main causes of the river’s polluted state are treated sewage, industrial waste and farm runoff. There are 25 resource consents to discharge into the Manawatu River, which include four for treated wastewater (sewerage), and one for the Fonterra dairy factory in Longburn.

*This is according to a system measuring oxygen changes in the water. The Manawatu had the highest rating by far of the 300 rivers and streams measured in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. [Click here to read story in Dominion Post].

[Photo above: Cows in the Manawatu River. Source: blog.greens.org.nz]

See also: The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu; Flaxmilling in the Manawatu; The opening up of the Manawatu – the “waste land of the Colony” ; From cesspits to sewers: a tale of wastewater treatment.

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