Halving rural and Māori community wastewater treatment costs by mainstreaming novel ecocultural technologies

Project update December 2019

New Zealand’s rural wastewater treatment systems are often overloaded and fail to meet existing discharge conditions.  Poorly treated wastewater from these rural communities (towns, papakāinga, schools, marae, community halls, holiday parks, recreational/tourist facilities, etc) is a significant cause of pollution and contamination risk particularly for water used for recreation, mahinga kai harvesting or sourced for community drinking water supplies.

Rural wastewater infrastructure (wastewater treatment plants and on-site systems) will require substantial investment and innovation over the next 10–20 years to meet increasingly stringent resource consent requirements, address Māori Te Mana o te Wai and to future proof for population growth and climate change.  Both Maori and the wider New Zealand public aspire to move beyond current practice, and to improve the cultural acceptability and environmental performance of wastewater treatment systems. Currently available upgrades are costly to implement, however, and do little to address concerns around acceptability of wastewater treatment/disposal options (i.e., direct discharge into waterways), and provide few opportunities to offset costs through wastewater resource recovery.

The newly funded MBIE Endeavour project will co-develop with hapū/iwi and rural council partners, transformative eco-cultural wastewater treatment technologies to provide culturally acceptable, effective, resilient and affordable future options that are able to cope with variable flows and provide opportunities to recover resources.

The project aims to at least halve the whole-of-life costs of rural community wastewater treatment.  Estimated cost savings for rural communities are over $1 billion.  New eco-technologies will support Māori communities through co-developed Intensified Multi-Layered Wetland Filters for marae and papakainga septic tank effluent treatment; small rural towns through co-developed High Rate Filamentous Algae Pond wastewater treatment to upgrade oxidation ponds; and all communities through co-developed Final Effluent Wetlands.

Culturally appropriate options for beneficial resource recovery (e.g., energy and fertiliser) will be identified for all technologies to enhance ecotechnology sustainability and affordability.

The project involves partnerships with six hapū/iwi and six council partners and specific engagement with industry and regulators to understand Mātauranga Māori and to seek solutions to address barriers to ecotechnology implementation.  This co-development and collaborative approach will ensure that culturally appropriate, effective and sustainable eco-technologies are developed to upgrade rural community wastewater treatment infrastructure with lower cost and greenhouse gas emissions than is currently available.

Project Details

Te Waiora Research team:

  • NIWA (Rupert Craggs, Chris Tanner, James Sukias, Jason Park, Paula Blackett)
  • University of Waikato (Rebecca Lawton, Marie Magnusson, Graham Glasgow, Mark Lay)


  • WaterNZ
  • Eco Eng

Iwi co-development and implementation:

  • Ngāti Koroki Kahukura Trust
  • Te Kopua Trust
  • Rotorua Lakes Iwi wastewater Liaison group
  • Parihaka Papakāinga Trust
  • Akerama Trust Marae,
  • Mahaanui Kurataiao

Industry endusers / implementation:

  • District Councils (Waipa, Waikato, Rotorua Lakes, South Taranaki, Far North, Christchurch City Council)


  • MBIE Endeavour Fund - Successful 2019.


  • Co-develop and implement effective and culturally acceptable eco-technologies with iwi partners and engineer and council endusers to upgrade rural wastewater treatment infrastructure.


Year 1 of 5-year project.


Rupert Craggs