A Taranaki composting business has been told its understanding of how to legally manage fresh water is at the very least, unusual.
Remediation NZ, which over years has amassed a 20,000-tonne pile of contaminated waste at its Uruti site, wants to renew consents allowing it to discharge contaminants to air, land and water.
But Ngāti Mutunga said the firm had shown it could not be trusted and was not following Te Mana o Te Wai - the basic principle to protect freshwater - enshrined in the National Policy Statement for Fresh Water Management.
At a consents renewal hearing in New Plymouth yesterday, Remediation NZ's lawyer John Maassen said the principle of Te Mana o Te Wai was "unfortunately" expressed in Māori terms and companies were having to grapple with its meaning in law.
"Necessarily human life involves trade-offs and human society does have impacts and the concept of Te Mana o Te Wai provides for that subject to restoring appropriate baselines or bottom-lines in terms of environmental health."
The hearing's independent commissioner, Rawiri Faulkner, noted that he had never heard Te Mana o Te Wai interpreted in that manner before.
Remediation NZ has a long history of non-compliance with consents.
Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Mutunga said it was now time for the firm to cease operations and exit the site.
Environmental officer for the iwi, Marlene Benson, reckoned the company had seriously misunderstood Te Mana o Te Wai.
"I think that they've missed that it's a hierarchy. So, the first thing you've got to do is make sure the water is healthy and that's the mauri and anyway you measure it, okay? And the other uses of the water come below that."
Benson said water should be fit for recreational use before any industrial use was considered.
Remediation NZ also faced criticism from Commissioner Faulkner for failing to work in partnership with Ngāti Mutunga and address concerns about the mauri - or life-force - of the Mimitangiatua River and its tributaries in its evidence.
Lawyer Maassen said it was up to the iwi to articulate concerns about the mauri.
"What I said is that the policy statement recognises that science and evidenced-based tools are helpful to help understand freshwater body health.
"And to the extent that the concept of mauri incorporates freshwater body health, we would like to align those science tools with the cultural understanding."
Benson said Ngāti Mutunga had been developing a cultural compass to include in Remediation NZ's management plan, but the company had no appetite to work with the iwi.
"Our problem with Remediation NZ is that even if you had that in their management plans, we have no faith they would put them into practice or give them the respect that they deserved."
Remediation NZ general manager David Gibson told the hearing the company wanted to work with Ngāti Mutunga and include the iwi in a programme to plant trees at the Uruti site.
The hearing continues today.