Hapū calls for more consultation in Council water consent process

By D'Angelo Martin

Hapū concern over the impact of Council consents to draw water from rivers and streams around the Whatitiri area has been a contentious issue in Northland for years.

A recent application by Council has raised more questions for local hapū with direct links to and landowners and while council appears confident a recent application won’t have a direct impact on those concerned, locals have a very different view and they’ve called on council to halt future and current consents until a co-governance arrangement or plan can be implemented. Visual images of Porotī Springs in 2013 bare a strikingly different view to what it looks like now. 

Te Uriroroi representative Meryl Carter says, “It's such a drastic change and that's what makes these new consents so difficult, especially in the last couple of years. The flows are extremely low, to the point where you’re lucky to get that flow up around your ankles.  Now the surface water from where the aquifer feeds the spring it's just ridiculous now.”

Whatitiri Māori Reserves Trust spokesperson Millan Ruka says, “Already the source is depleting over and above the averages that we normally have and so it considerably impacts the aquifer itself.”

A Council application to drop the water take of an existing consent by one cubic metre has raised eyebrows again.

Ms Carter says, “That to me is the epitome of disrespect to our hapū. You know you look at those land blocks all around there that are our people's land blocks we belong to that whenua and to say that there is no impact to any of us that is dishonest.”

Stuart Savill of the Northland Regional Council says hapū are incorrect and a drop in cubic metres doesn't rule them out of the consultation processes.

In a statement to Te Ao news Savill said the consent in question was renewing an existing one which expires in 2024 and the decrease by one cubic meter doesn’t dictate any other process but it will reduce the annual charges the consent holder is required to pay. 

But hapū aren't happy and say they have been fed with blanket statements for more than a decade now.

“They try to accommodate us in words, we see that a lot but honestly what it feels like to us is that when applications come in for water use because our case is so well known, it's almost a case where water is allocated quickly before us Māori get any say on what goes on.”

She along with others firmly believe there is only one effective way forward.

“A stop on all future allocations, a review on current allocations and definitely go and find all the bores, 10 years ago the council were committed to finding all unregistered bores on the maunga and 10 years later that hasn't been done because in the recent report this year by the regional council it's still in their planning.”

Council has told Te Ao the latest report they've received shows water levels are low in Porotī but they’re adamant the consent in question won’t impact the spring.

It’s obvious locals have a very different perspective, “It's right there as well where the water levels were so low that the whānau there at Waimarie couldn't even pump water over this year gone even the winter was very very low. We knew up stream that the District Council, their pumps were really going for it because they were having the same problems with low water flows so even their takes are threatened."

Council says they have a system of networks monitoring the water levels and impacts.

While they haven’t been able to allay concerns raised by Millan Ruka, Regional Council Kaiwhakahaere Hononga Māori says they will continue to address hapū issues on a case by case basis and are committed to building the capacity of teams to respond appropriately.