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Looking for compromise

A commitment to work together to resolve cultural differences was made at a hearing yesterday where Gisborne District Council was seeking resource consent for the next stage of its Managed Aquifer Recharge Trial, which is opposed by Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust.

The hearing was adjourned yesterday by independent hearing commissioner Mark Farnsworth after he listened to submissions from both parties.

GDC environmental services manager Lois Easton said the council was very well aware of the deep cultural concerns of Rongowhakaata but still wanted to proceed with the trial.

But she stressed that the council would continue to work with Rongowhakaata and other iwi trusts around every aspect of the trial. They were happy to agree to a cultural impact report, including Rongowhakaata experts.

Rongowhakaata Iwi Trust trustee Staci Hare said they were not there to say their way was the only way.

What they were looking for was a compromise around how their values were captured and sustained.

There had always been an ongoing issue with Rongowhakaata and the council, which was being worked through.

The trust had a real concern about the mixing of waters from the river and aquifer.

It was looking for a way forward but was not sure what that would look like.

The council is seeking a change to conditions for the resource consent it has relating to the discharge of water from the Waipaoa River to the Makauri aquifer in the next stage of the MAR trial.

A section 42 report from planning consultant Allan Matheson recommends the application be granted, subject to conditions.

Mr Matheson said he was aware of the conflict with Rongowhakaata cultural values, however he considered the adverse effects such as groundwater quality could be effectively avoided, remedied or mitigated.

'Insufficient evidence' of benefits of the rechargeIndependent natural resources and environmental management consultant Murray Palmer, supporting the iwi trust, said the demise of the Makauri aquifer was solely due to overuse by irrigators and the inability of previous GDC attempts to constrain that.

One glaring example was exceeding allowable takes from the aquifer.

He believed the trust was right in its submission that the allocation and use of freshwater in an environment of scarcity required a fine-grained assessment of the benefits and costs of any proposal in terms of the broad social, economic, cultural and environmental outcomes that might be achieved.

Mr Palmer said he believed the current MAR proposal provided insuf ficient evidence of such positive benefits.

It ignored the precautionary principle and cultural sensitivity around mixing of waters and was predicated on a significant threat to the ecological functioning of the Waipaoa River, and potentially to users of the river and associated water bodies.

In a final submission, Ms Easton said the council would run the trial when people were not irrigating.

It was important to understand that the aquifer was continuing to decline.

It might mean that any future MAR scheme might have to put substantially more water back into the aquifer.

She again stressed their willingness to work with Rongowhakaata and acknowledged that the granting of a consent would be challenging to them.

“But we have a shared desire to protect and sustain the aquifer, and hope that this is a point of agreement that will enable us to move forward collaboratively,” she said.

Mr Farnsworth said a legal opinion from Buddle Findlay that changes to the consent could be properly assessed and determined under the Resource Management Act, was very important.

He adjourned the hearing and said he would seek further information before finally closing it.

A decision would be released within 15 working days of that closure.

The Waipaoa River (pictured). File picture