Go-ahead for landowners to take billions of litres of water

The water will be used mainly for avocado orchards.
The water will be used mainly for avocado orchards. Photo credit: Getty Images

An application by Far North landowners to take billions of litres of water from an underground aquifer has been given the go-ahead.

Independent commissioners working on behalf of the Northland Regional Council today granted a group of 22 landowners consent to take 4.5 million cubic metres from the Aupōuri aquifer.

The water will be used mainly for avocado orchards.

Te Rūnanga Nui o Te Aupōuri is the largest applicant, and CEO Mariameno Kapa-King said the decision was fantastic news.

She said there had been massive avocado growth near Te Kao, and the iwi had been looking at what could be grown further north.

"You get to a point where you come across avocados to the right and to the left of you and you think you're never going to come out of that because there's so much grown - but once you come up into our end of the world that stops, because we haven't had the opportunity in that same way to grow whatever is decided to [be] grown.

"Whether it's avocados, whether it's coffee beans, there is a whole other range of produce that we know we can grow."

Kapa Kingi said the decision aligned with what Te Rūnanga Nui o Te Aupōuri knew would be good for the area.

"Everything is connected to everything else - just like water runs, so does our whakapapa - it surrounds everything."

She said any decisions made going forward would be in the interests of the whenua, whanau and the wider community.

"Instantly we are talking about jobs and we're talking about jobs that are meaningful and that are related to your own whenua.

"And when we've got a lot of young ones that are saying 'yeah I'm happy to come home but have you got a job for me Aunty?' Ok, yes I have."

But the consents haven't been wholly welcomed, with some concerned the environmental risks are greater than the economic rewards.

Of the 113 submissions received on the application, 92 were opposed.

Among them was Kevin Matthews, who chairs local conservation group Bushland Trust, and said there were questions about the information the consents were granted on.

"I still think that there are a lot of unknowns within the aquifer, its connection to the range south of Kaitaia, the Herekino range, and the recharge values."

Other concerns voiced by opponents included the long-term impacts on the aquifer, effects on existing bores, water quality and contamination, ecological impacts, salt water intrusion, and cultural considerations.

But the independent commissioners said while those were all valid issues that should be guarded against, the water extraction was sustainable.

"The total volume of groundwater being sought by the applications was 4.6 million cubic metres annually, expert evidence suggesting that was only 1.9 percent of the estimated 238 million cubic metres that is used by NRC to allocate water from the overall Aupouri aquifer system.

"Similarly, the proposed groundwater take was only 0.16 percent of the estimated 2850 million cubic metres of groundwater stored within the aquifer in an average year."

The commissioners said while the total water take was large in terms of quantity, it was relatively small in comparison to the annually available 'throughput' of the aquifer.

They said stringent checks had been set around the water take, including trigger levels and the establishment of two independent review panels.

One, made up of two irrigation experts, will ensure water is used efficiently and not wasted.

A second independent review panel, with a hydrogeologist and an ecologist, will review the effects on the water resources to ensure no unacceptable adverse effects are occurring.

The consents run for 12 years until November 2033.

The commissioners' decision is open to appeal for 15 working days.

RNZ