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Regulatory Changes to Waste Water Systems in the Marlborough Sounds

Beaches, barbecues, bellbirds, snapper, sunscreen and sandy sheets - there’s something undeniably nostalgic about summer holidays in New Zealand.

And in the idyllic Marlborough Sounds, you can still find a slice of summer’s past, with many quintessential Kiwi baches and lifestyle homes dotted in and around the endless bays and coves that shape this unique and beautiful corner of New Zealand.

While these types of properties are highly sought after, says Tall Poppy Picton and Marlborough Sounds owner Grant Douglas, they do require a little extra homework for prospective buyers.

In a previous blog, Grant covered off everything you need to know about the implications the Foreshore Reserve has on buying, selling and owning coastal property in the Sounds.

Wastewater systems in the Marlborough Sounds have recently come under scrutiny by the Marlborough District Council, as part of regulatory changes they are making in effort to safeguard and improve water quality in the Marlborough Sounds.

Architectural design consultant Alisdair Daines who is a resident of Anakiwa, says Marlborough District Council has already rolled out new requirements for wastewater systems in the Marlborough Sounds.

And under the Proposed Marlborough Environment Plan (PMEP), council has indicated that more regulatory changes are coming, including an inspection, warrant of fitness and service plan for all wastewater systems.

“Many wastewater systems in the Marlborough Sounds are out-dated, particularly older properties built pre-1980s, but even a reasonable number of properties built between 1980 and 2010 will be affected,” Alisdair says.

Every property will be affected differently, Alisdair says, but under the new rules proposed in the PMEP, it is likely that council will require any wastewater system not covered by an existing resource consent to be inspected regularly to ensure it is performing adequately.

Underperforming wastewater systems will be required to be repaired or replaced by property owners. Depending on the site and location, the cost for designing and replacing a wastewater system in the Marlborough Sounds is around $20,000 - $30,000, Alisdair says.

“Most people take a deep breath at the cost, wastewater is not something we think about. But by replacing a faulty system with one that works, homeowners are futureproofing their properties and protecting the environment.”

Grant says the proposed changes have added another box for prospective buyers to check off before purchasing a property in the Marlborough Sounds.

“It’s something I discuss with both buyers and sellers, asking vendors to have a look at their system, its history, whether it’s working correctly - these are all things buyers need to know,” Grant says.

While the Marlborough District Council is not systematically inspecting wastewater systems in the Sounds, the resource management team is taking a much more proactive approach, to get a better idea of what’s happening out there, he says.

“If property owners decide to add another bedroom or bathroom for instance, council is asking about their wastewater system too and are requiring an upgrade to meet current standards.”

The first step in finding out whether your wastewater system is working is to talk to a qualified wastewater engineer.

Chartered professional engineer Khalid Suleiman of Seng Engineering Consultancy in Blenheim says historically in the Sounds, septic tank systems were connected to a pipe that went straight to the closest stream.

This rudimentary design has been improved on many times over the years, first to soak pits, then trenches. But the problem in the Sounds now is often the size of the property is not large enough to adequately disperse the wastewater produced, Khalid says.

“If you want to add an office, games room or bedroom - all of which are counted as extra potential occupants in the house, you are going to have to address the wastewater system too,” he says.

“A lot are not up to scratch and need replacing with a council approved system that is suitable to the unique site of your property.”

Modern systems, such as secondary treatment systems, treat wastewater to a very high standard and can be connected to dripper lines in the bush, or to trenches or beds for dispersal.

If you’re considering buying, selling or developing property in the Sounds the team at Tall Poppy Picton can give you expert advice on how to approach wastewater systems. You can contact Grant on 021 386 700.