An application for a Water Conservation Order (WCO) for the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand has been accepted and referred to a special tribunal, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith announced Monday.
"The Waikoropupu Springs are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand and contain the clearest water measured anywhere in the world. These iconic waters are well deserving of consideration for a WCO - the highest protection possible for a water body," Dr Smith says.
WCOs are the equivalent of National Park status for a water body. There are 15 WCOs nationwide covering 13 rivers and two lakes.
This is the first application advanced for a springs. A WCO overrides any other planning instrument and requires the identified features or characteristics to be protected in perpetuity.
"I commend the applicants, Ngati Tama Ki Te Waipounamu Trust and Andrew Yuill, on their application. The Waikoropupu Springs are a widely treasured and unique water body that attracts 90,000 visitors each year.
''The uniquely purple-blue water has a clarity of 63m due to the confined Mt Arthur karst aquifer through which it passes. These springs are part of what gives Golden Bay, Nelson and New Zealand a strong environmental reputation, and we must ensure they are protected for future generations," he said.
The original application for a Water Conservation Order was received in December 2013 but had insufficient information.
Dr Smith earlier this year encouraged the applicants to resubmit the application with additional information, and this was received in April.
The Green Party has welcomed the news.
"If implemented this is excellent news for Waikoropupu Springs," said Green Party water spokesperson Catherine Delahunty.
"The Water Conservation Order should see changes in land use around the springs, to ensure there is no ongoing contamination from nitrogen and other run off."
While congratulating Ngati Tama ki Waipounamu and locals for their advocacy for the springs and the environment, the Green Party has also called for decisions about water conservation orders to be sped up.