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Published: 2011-11-10 00:00:00

The Department of Conservation (DoC) has been granted new consents enabling it to keep operating the popular Tokaanu hot pools complex near Turangi but under stricter conditions following concerns raised by local tangata whenua.

A Waikato Regional Council hearing on the water take and discharge consent applications was told both DoC and tangata whenua wanted the pools to continue operating but that local iwi Ngati Kurauia and the Tokaanu marae wanted better environmental protections put in place.

The hearings committee, comprising independent commissioners Phil Mitchell and Chris Koroheke, decided on a suite of conditions to address environmental and tangata whenua concerns, and that the consents will also only be for five years as opposed to the 20 years sought by DoC.

The commissioners indicated a five year term for the consents would give the department enough time to gather necessary information about the environmental effects of the operation of the pools and to undertake further consultation with tangata whenua on future mitigation options.

Evidence from Ngati Kurauia, which expects ownership of the pools to be returned to the iwi under a treaty settlement, highlighted a number of concerns about the operation of the pools and their discharges. These included a potential link between discharges and the disappearance of abundant watercress beds from the Tokaanu Stream. Koura (freshwater crayfish) were also said to be scarce now in the stream. It was suggested wastewater could be treated in Taupo District Council’s wastewater system.

The commissioners said their job had been made more difficult by a lack of information provided by DoC on the environmental effects of the pools’ operation.

They accepted council evidence that the effect of discharges on water quality were likely to be minor. But they said the effects of water takes from a geothermal bore on surface geothermal features may be more than minor. And, on cultural impacts of the proposed consents, they considered the effects on the mauri of geothermal, land and water resources would be significant, and the exercising of kaitiakitanga (guardianship) by local Maori could be affected. They also noted a separate DoC proposal to discharge water via a filtering wetland was opposed by tangata whenua.

The commissioners said local Maori wanted the pools to keep operating but in an environmentally and culturally appropriate way. “It is clear to us, and acknowledged by all parties, that there is a need for further assessments and consultation to be undertaken before the shape of that outcome can be fully understood,” the commissioners said.

In granting the consents for the five-year term, the conditions imposed by commissioners included the establishment of a tangata whenua consultation group, which would look at an environmental monitoring plan, wastewater discharge options, energy efficiency improvements and related reporting and consultation requirements.