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Iwi’s stance delays next phase of the aquifer trial

The next phase of the managed aquifer recharge (MAR) trial, that was intended to take place this winter, has been delayed after Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust lodged a follow-on objection to a resource consent for the project.

The MAR trial project began in 2017 and involves the test pumping of filtered water, taken from Waipaoa River, into the Makauri aquifer through bores.

It has been funded by Eastland Community Trust, the Ministry of Primary Industries and Gisborne District Council.

The trial was deemed necessary because water levels in the Makauri aquifer have declined in recent years and horticulture irrigation was under threat.

If the trial is successful water could be pumped into the aquifer over winter, potentially increasing the amount available to irrigators.

A resource consent application for the second phase of the trial was lodged in March.

“It was subject to limited notification to Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust (RIT),” said Gisborne District Council environmental and science manager Lois Easton.

“RIT has made a submission against the stage two MAR trial and a hearing will be required.

“A date for the hearing has not been set yet but will likely take place in August.

“The follow-on objection by Rongawhakaata Iwi Trust has impacted on our time frames and a start to phase two this winter is now not going to be possible,” she said.

Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust chairwoman Moera Brown said the iwi never supported the recharge trial. This was always their stance, she said.

“On this occasion we feel the next trial phase is so significant that it does require public scrutiny.

“We have legacy resource management issues with the council that we are still dealing with — the leaching at the old Paokahu landfill and the sewage outfall.

“No doubt at the time these were considered progress and would have limited impact on our environment,” she said.

“As mana whenua, we want to contribute to the productivity of this region but, unlike others, we have the additional responsibility of ensuring that it is sustainable.

“We cannot afford to be short-sighted.”

Not enough alternatives had been considered and she questioned monitoring of the trial.

“The aquifer water is distinctly different to the surface water being injected – the natural process for the water to travel through the aquifer takes 80 years.

“What is known about the potential impacts of mixing these waters? The Makauri aquifer is a significant body of water and the impact to this supply if we get it wrong will be far-reaching.

“We appreciate that people want it for industry. But where’s the advantages for smaller landowners?” she said.

Ms Easton said the first stage of the pilot trial had been successful and had proven the feasibility of MAR in the Makauri aquifer.

“The MAR project aims to inject water from the Waipaoa River into the aquifer in order to ensure its ongoing use for irrigation of 3000 hectares of horticultural farmland.

“Stage two will fully investigate all potential risks. It proposes to run over two and a half years and inject up to 360,000m3/ per year, depending on river flows,” she said.

“The trial will generate hydrological data needed to determine the number and location of injection bores in a wider MAR scheme.

“It will also look at the volume of injection water needed to sustain and grow irrigation on the Poverty Bay flats.”

The second stage injection trial would follow next year and in 2020 if consent was granted.

Businesses ‘will suffer’ without better water supplyProject manager Mark Joblin said during the consenting process, the team would continue to improve the network of bores used for environmental monitoring in the MAR trial.

“Two new purpose-built monitoring bores will be constructed in June-July.

“The bores will be located 80m and 350m from the injection bore on Kaiaponi Farms property,” he said.

“We will inspect other existing monitoring bores to ensure they are still fit for purpose and have no faults that could affect data collected from them.”

Based on the actual costs incurred during the pilot trial, stage two has been estimated to cost $1.19 million.

“The council has secured $542,000 from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) for the trial. However, this is dependent on us obtaining the remainder of the funding,” Mr Joblin said.

“The council has committed $160,000 in the 2018–28 long-term plan and has applied to ECT for the remaining $488,000 needed to undertake the trial.”

Commercial irrigators on the Poverty Bay Flats have said their current and future business plans would suffer without an increase in water supply, and say if the trial is successful the MAR could address the water supply issue.