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We Are Water – speaking out

Catherine Murupaenga-Ikenn writes: Our Te Hiku water defense campaign team is organizing an independent, peaceful ‘People’s Tribunal’ on this ‘Motutangi Waiharara Users Group Resource Consent application to Northland Regional Council (NRC) to extract water from our Te Hiku Aquifer.

Why hold such an event? Because many citizens are unhappy with perceived the systemic violence of the decision-making system including NRC suppression of affected citizen participation in the MWWUG application process (e.g. Limited consent notification, resistance to full information sharing) and apparent favourable treatment towards the applicants (e.g. lacklustre response to citizens’ complaints re alleged applicant misconduct, significant NRC resources to assist the applicants to construct their compelling case, and even rewarding applicants’ bad business behaviour – e.g. horticulture mismanagement being rewarded with issuing of temporary water permits, earthworks of questionable legality allowed with impunity).

So we will hold our own Tribunal outside on the same day/days as the NRC consent hearings (precise day/s and time/s will be confirmed in due course) where citizens who wanted to speak could speak, and We, The People, would judge for ourselves whether the consent should go ahead, and if so with what conditions.

The Tribunal will announce its own findings and recommendations after the People have shared their perspectives, and the media will be invited to observe the event.

This event is inspired by:

1. Citizens around the World holding their own independent People’s Tribunals in parallel with other ‘official’ environmental events (such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change “Conference of Parties”) which have been criticized for (1) their bias, and (2) suppressing the People’s voice: e.g. see and; and

2. NZ Citizen mobilization to force accountability of our elected Council officials who seem to be steam-rolling ahead with propositions that will make fiscal savings, but have profound harmful impacts for environmental, social, cultural and (even) wider economic outcomes – including water security and/or labour/ employees’ human rights – like this matter in Rotorua where just yesterday 28 February Ratepayers forced their Council to ‘go back to the drawing board’ rather than out-sourcing management contracts:

If you would like to add your name to the Peoples’ Speakers List, please contact Catherine, and if you’d like to wear one of their campaign t-shirts we’ve got them at the EcoCentre for $20 (all funds to the campaign), or contact Karyn (see their event for contact details for both Catherine & Karyn)

Their petition to stop the industrial consents until there is proper public consultation is here.

The following explanation of the issue is taken from the group’s files:

MWWUG (Mototangi Waiharara Water User Group) is a group of seventeen orchard owners applying to the the NRC (Northern Regional Council) for underground water for irrigation. If granted all the water they are applying for then no consents will be available for anyone else in some areas. However MWWUG will be in a position to on sell their consented water if some NRC plans go ahead.

Concerns raised by local residents have caused the NRC to investigate water usage by MWWUG and others in the surrounding area. At least five of the MWWUG had no consent at all for the groundwater they have used on their established orchards; in some cases they have been using this water illegally for many years. Such poor behaviour from members of a group that will potentially monopolize groundwater causes us to question the integrity of the group as a whole.

The MWWUG application to the NRC for groundwater abstraction is based around a computer generated model which estimates the effect of multiple bores pumping from the groundwater system. It used actual data obtained from pumping three bores and extrapolated that limited information to get an overall view.

Once again local residents have found errors with this model as they have with models used in other groundwater abstractions. The ground level used for at least two of the three bores was wrong, in one instance, by over seven metres. This is because the experts involved had not surveyed what the actual ground level was but estimated it.

It is not acceptable in a project of this size that the experts should be making calculated guesses about the most basic datum levels and be so inaccurate. It is impossible to have faith in such a model when local residents find errors that the so called experts have missed.

The Aupouri aquifer is one of the last pristine underground water in New Zealand. The possibility of increasing nitrate levels affecting the aquifer has already been raised. Contamination from areas of high intensity land use will eventually impact on the aquifer as has happened elsewhere in this country and all over the world. The aquifer water should be used for human and animal consumption first and foremost and used with great care for any other purpose.

Richard Sucich,


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