An attendee asked, is it possible that there are too many federal regulations, and they steal time and financial resources and reduce asset management, for example, requiring a small village’s nutrient reduction even though they don’t contribute?
It is one of those things that I think becomes part of the overall strategic asset management approach that while we have these regulations in place. We are compelled, I guess the word I use, compelled to comply with them, we have to build that in as part of the overall strategy that we are trying to adopt.
So, I think there’s probably a parallel path. One path is there are regulations that, how shall I put this, appear to make sense to the people who are making the regulations up, but in the grand scheme of things, if they could step back (they) may have different opinions.
So, I think the one that was mentioned sounds like a nutrients removal. I’m guessing that’s a wastewater situation where their wastewater plants are discharging into some receiving body that probably is having a nitrogen phosphorous control where we have the agricultural farm areas that are most likely contributing more.
And the regulations generally are on the ones that are easier to regulate which are the point sources or wastewater treatment plants as opposed to the non-point sources which would be your agricultural areas.
So, I understand the concern, and I feel your pain in some of these areas. But on the other hand, what we have to do is kind of build that into the overarching asset management plan. Then we figure out a way to make that part of our level of service, part of what we do and how we overall manage our asset, as opposed to a separate kind of thing that we look at as taking away from asset management.
I would say it is a part of the overarching asset management. And the more you can integrate that into your program, through levels of service, and looking at critical assets (you know what assets are critical to you), removing the nitrogen phosphorous, and even taking a step back, to say, is there a way to work with agricultural areas?
Maybe the government can’t mandate certain things, but perhaps you could get together with agricultural areas. Is there a way to work with them to have them voluntarily change their practices.
As the strategic direction, can you bring a different conversation with your customers and the local farmers to have a different discussion about? Maybe we can change how you put nutrients in your fields or do you have buffers zones or do we have capture zones or whatever.
Certainly one of the learnings out of the Havelock water incident is that, particularly for public water supply, you have to control the buffer and the collection zone right through the well, right through to the whole system. And I think we’ve had that very well reinforced zone in New Zealand, and that’s going to create issues around some of the well fields and some of the municipalities.
But I think the other thing, and it’s a broader question, that’s why I said it was an excellent question, the thing that’s happening is, every 20 or 30 years the standard has changed.
And we all like the thing of the good old days, which probably weren’t that good and early. Because if you look at public water supply that, say, for protecting health, public health, wastewater systems, sewerage systems, treatment systems, are there to protect public health again and the environment, one way or the other.
You can argue all year long about what that actually means but the community, what they think, what they want to pay for, maybe not what they want to pay for but what they want to see, changes over time and it gets reflected in the permitting.
To use in New Zealand example, 30 or 40 years ago, we are an island; we’ve got lots of sea around us, a great place to dump municipal wastewater. We used to have, 40 years ago, dumped it out to the sea without treatment at all.
And then people go, hey no, that’s not really where we want to be, is it? And so you get some new permitting, and hey, we are going to pull in some primary treatment, secondary treatment, and tertiary treatment. And ultimately we’ll get to the point where we are UV-ing it at as almost as to drinking water standard and then going out to the sea.
And that reflects a shift in the thinking of the broader community about what’s an acceptable practice, and the same thing happens with a water supply and freshwater. And that then reflects on the regulations.
So, I think one of the things from the asset management point of view, you have to recognize it, that there are changes in service levels and they change over time as the permitting changes.
Better to stay ahead of it than to fight, I think. And just have those conversations with your community, hey look, nationally, federally, we’re moving to this position sometime over the next five, seven, ten, or 15 years.
We’re going to have to be there whether we like it or not, what can we do to do this in a brilliant and structured way that gets us to where we know we are going to need to be?
I know because I read about what happens to the US. In New Zealand, that’s the same.
Some of our smaller communities go, we hate this, we want to have now to take our water supply back from the municipality, and have our supply because we don’t want to have… these regulations are our risks, and we don’t want them, and we don’t want to pay for them, and all of those sorts of things. Those are community conversations in the same areas.
And you’ve got to have those conversations but at the end of the day, the overall level of what the community finds acceptable does change over time.
I would never want us to go back to some developing countries in the world where your wastewater runs the side of the road, and you go to a contaminated well and have cholera and typhoid and those sorts of things.
That’s a long time ago in American and New Zealand history, but it was there at one stage. And that’s why we started putting in these sorts of systems.
So, we’re now building on those foundations and we’ll get better over time.
PHOTO CREDIT: Leaf Timaru Ross Waugh