27 Oct 2017

Water row: 'We are going to exercise our rights'

1:49 pm on 27 October 2017

The Māori owners of Porotī Springs in Northland are going ahead with plans to develop their resource without council consent.

Hapū have been fighting without success for a share in the water rights at Porotī, and have opposed plans for a bottling operation nearby.

Poroti Springs

Poroti Springs Photo: Supplied

Currently, Whangarei District Council a local irrigation company, Auckland company Zodiac Holdings - which has a 35-year-right to take water that feeds the springs - draw water from below the springs.

On Thursday, Zodiac Holdings said it was rethinking its plan to build a water-bottling plant at Porotī Springs near Whangarei in favour of building near Northport.

Whatitiri Trustees spokesperson Millan Ruka told Morning Report the hapū would dam part of the springs to create deep pools, enhance the eel fishery and bring back kewai - freshwater crayfish.

He said they would be exercising the 1896 rights of ownership ignored by local councils and private enterprise.

The three hapū of Whatitiri were granted legal title to the springs in 1896 as a water supply for local hapū, and managed the springs until 1967 when the Water And Soil Conservation Act handed control to local government.

Mr Ruka said the hapū recently asked the council for a share in its water rights on the advice from then-Environment Minister Nick Smith.

He said following advice from Mr Smith, they met twice with the Whangarei District Council to ask for a share of the water because the council was using less than half of it.

However, the council rejected the idea. Mr Ruka said the owners had simply had enough of everyone else making use of their water.

"All of our energy, kōrero and talk on the marae has the springs on the agenda."

Mr Ruka said holding back water at the Porotī Springs source could affect the quality of that taken downstream by the Whangarei District Council and local irrigators, but that was no longer the trustees' concern.

"We have no other pathway of action."

"We are not asking the council, the Whangarei District Council or the Northland Regional Council. We are just telling them of our right and they will just have to work with us and we will just have ensure that we stay legal within the Resource Management Act."

He said no-one has ever given serious consideration to Māori interests at the springs, despite years of effort by the hapū.

"We have to focus on looking after ourselves."

"We are going to exercise our rights, just like everybody else has."

Whangarei mayor Sheryl Mai said she understood the frustration the hapū were feeling.

"Clearly we have no influence over what they choose to do around the springs themselves," she said.

"We do take water for our water supply downstream from the springs and I'd like to hope that any activity up by the springs wouldn't have any impact on the water quality."

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