Tasman District Council wants 'flexible' approach to conservation of Te Waikoropupū Springs

The Tasman District Council wants a "flexible" approach to conservation of New Zealand's largest freshwater springs and its aquifers.

The submission was made today at a special Environment Protection Authority hearing called over the Te Waikoropupū Springs, which local iwi want protected by a strict water conservation order.

For local iwi Ngāti Tama, Te Waikoropupū Springs is more than just pristine, clear water.

"For us it is our taonga, our wāhi tapu and our sacred place," said Ngāti Tama Kaumātua John Ward-Holmes.

That's why Ngāti Tama and local resident Andrew Yuill want to protect the springs and surrounding aquifers with a water conservation order, which would offer legal protection.

But in submissions on Thursday at a special 10-day Environment Protection Authority hearing, Tasman District Council said "locking in" conservation with a water order under the regional plan isn't "flexible" enough.

"There's likely to be continuing developments in the scientific understanding of the springs - and its related aquifers - and an ability to respond to those changes is desirable," said Tasman District Council lawyer Chris Thomsen.

Critics, including Mr Ward-Holmes, fear this "flexibility" could allow increased irrigation extraction from aquifers, which would then threaten the springs.

But council hydrologist Joseph Thomas dismissed those concerns.

"Council monitoring data shows no discernible impact of extractions," he said.

Mr Ward-Holmes says a water order shouldn't be necessary, but his iwi's protection rights over the springs from its treaty settlement haven't been upheld. 

"It has done absolutely nothing, so we've have to look around for another tool," he said.

The panel will make a recommendation once hearings finish in two weeks. The fate of the Te Waikoropupū Springs will then be in the hands of the Environment Minister.