Rising background nutrient levels are presenting an emerging and increasing problem for the New Zealand environment, and although these levels are far more significant in other places across the globe such as Europe, it is their past experience that magnifies the importance of addressing the situation at home now.
Understanding that a linear approach to problem solving limits the outcome and the ability to diversify into recovering or reusing a resource, Europe has adopted a building blocks approach to addressing the issue of increased nutrient levels, viewing it as an integrated whole rather than a stand-alone issue.
Through the specific processes used, Waste-water plants in Europe are recovering heat and energy, making them almost energy neutral which also offers significant cost implications. Europe’s economic approach to managing waste-water means that it is viewed as a resource rather than a problem, and provides the opportunity to recover nutrients, metals and energy.
I believe the way forward for New Zealand is adopting leading edge technology to preserve our three-waters through the power of collaboration. The primary focus is a strongly targeted message to support regional and local government. The secondary focus is about regarding infrastructure as an enabler in communities, and the third focus is the necessity to deliver infrastructure where it is needed in order to achieve the enabling element, and support the local initiatives in a manner which is sustainable both operationally and financially. This means engaging in circular economic thinking.
I recently travelled to Spain to attend the International Water Association LETS (Leading Edge Technology) Conference 2016, and was focused on taking in the ‘amazing view of emerging research and issues which would inform me in regards to what we need to be thinking about and focusing on in New Zealand’.
I identified a vast amount of international experience and knowledge which can be translated back to New Zealand, with one of the strongest messages from the conference being the collaboration demonstrated in Europe between researchers, local body, national government and industry, in regards to environmental issues. I have noticed that this integrated framework is one that New Zealand stakeholders are not as proactive in adopting.
The conference highlighted the importance of community leaders embracing a wider awareness of how the larger communities are impacted by their decision making, and the consequent necessity for a multi criteria approach. Taking a step back and looking at the Manawatu region, I see that the economic development strategy is in place, and is mindful that this needs to be aligned with an infrastructure and sustainability strategy to ensure the correct information is accessed in the process of decision making in order to create a successful operating environment. ‘To be effective in our regional economic strategy we’ve got to have a community of people and a set of values that is empowering for business, the community and the environment’. ‘Economic strategy cannot be achieved in isolation from the vitally important community values.’
Of particular interest at the conference was the Innovative Smart Solutions for Sustainable Water Services paper. I summarise this paper as adopting low energy technology, treating waste as a resource, integrating management systems, smart citizens’ services and resilient thinking. When putting this in the context of New Zealand, I believe that ‘It’s about managing the environmental impacts of discharging waste-water into the environment and using it beneficially rather than creating a problem through increasing nitrate levels’.
New Zealand has the unique advantage of learning from those international communities who are paddling against the current in putting right the environmental damage caused through ignorance and avoidance. By attending such conferences as LETS, studying their systems and applying the relevant factors to our own communities, companies like Good Earth Matters build strong and robust infrastructure to guide New Zealand safely into a circular economy that offers a resilient and sustainable future.