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Dr Peter Nelson Applies Forensic Science to Rivercare's Mahi

With his expertise in environmental science and incredible work ethic, Dr Peter Nelson is Rivercare Group Te Wai o Pareira’s proverbial ace in the hole. Since joining the group in 2020, Peter has spent hundreds of hours trawling through numerous reports related to Auckland’s Wastewater Network. This mahi has enabled the group to fully understand the ins and outs of the wastewater network, and armed us with the data and ‘scientific speak’ to effectively liaise with the agencies responsible for the wellbeing of Te Wai o Pareira. The relationship that we have built with Watercare is now on a strong footing in large measure due to Peter’s hard work.

No one, however, was more surprised by his career in environmental science than Peter himself. He recalls that, as a teen, he was far more interested in sport than chemistry at school. Undertaking the subject in his first year at university changed all that however, and he turned down a place in dental school to enrol in an honours degree in chemistry. This led to acceptance for Ph.D. study, and on completion, employment at the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) as a forensic scientist.

When the DSIR restructured into crown research institutes, Pete was able to escape middle management and move into a more hands-on and practical role in environmental science. The Resource Management Act and Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act were new and provided opportunities to work with central, regional and local government entities, and with the private sector, to meet their legislative requirements. During his long career in both the public and private sector his environmental work includes consenting and compliance evidence on landfills, contaminated land, industrial discharges to air, land and water, and hazardous substances.

Clearly retirement wasn’t going to get in the way of Peter continuing this important mahi. Having moved to Te Atatū Peninsula in 2019, his interest in Te Wai o Pareira was sparked by a

community meeting raising concerns about landfill and sewage discharges into the awa at Taipari Strand. Peter, being Peter, realised he could be of help.

Asked what he loves about his career, he says,

“It has, and still does, provide me with the satisfaction of using my knowledge to assist environmental decision making.”

Perhaps his interest was also influenced by his love of the sea. His family on his Father’s side has been in the fishing trade in Dunedin dating back to the 1860’s. Peter’s Dad owned a classic logan designed fishing boat, the “Queen of Beauty”, on which they enjoyed a lot of family outings. When he moved to Auckland for his DSIR job, he fell in love with the Hauraki Gulf, which Te Wai o Pareira feeds into. This love of the sea has seen him explore the coastlines as far flung as Italy and the United Kingdom, as well as closer to home.

Sailing isn’t for the faint-hearted, but Peter enjoys everything about it, from settling into remote anchorages after a long passage, to the physically and mentally challenging conditions sometimes met at sea.

Asked why we should care about the health and mauri of Te Wai o Pareira, he muses that all city rivers provide outstanding amenity to the community. “Think the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris and the Swan in Perth. Auckland’s rivers provide such amenity and Te Wai o Pereira ranks highly among them.”

This has given Peter an exceptional depth of knowledge of how the Watercare network is built, what it is permitted to do, and has enabled Rivercare Group to have very informed discussions with Watercare regarding the potential solutions or plans to address the wet weather sewage overflows that have been a scourge for our community over the winter months. The relationship that we have built with Watercare is now on a strong footing in large measure due to Peter’s hard work.

Last word goes to Chris Ballantyne, Chair of RGTWoP, who says:

“Peter’s forensic and methodical research on issues that confront Te Wai o Pareira have been invaluable in informing our group’s mahi. It’s empowering to know that our advocacy is under-pinned with hard data and verifiable fact. Our community should be deeply grateful for the hundreds of hours he has gifted our awa and community. Knowledge is power. Nga mihi nui Dr Peter Nelson.”

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