The head of Iwi denounces the project of bottling and sale of borehole water
A Whanganui iwi chief says a plan to extract and sell 750,000 liters a week of groundwater from a borehole near the Whanganui River is theft and confiscation.
By Moana Ellis, Local Democracy Journalist
Consent has been granted to Aquifer 182 Holding Company Ltd to abstract 37 million liters per year from an existing capped artesian borehole on land the company owns at 182 Anzac Parade. Anzac Parade runs along the east bank of the river.
The company plans to bottle or make ice from groundwater and sell it, including in India and North America.
Tūpoho iwi president Ken Mair says the water should not be sold and iwi and hapū would take action to stop it.
“I promise you that anyone who wants to start a water bottling plant, we will do our best to stop it and whatever consequences affect us, we will go with it. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable, but for some of us, we just see it as sheer confiscation.
“Let’s be clear, water, water health and well-being has been a major issue for us for many decades, and decades before me. I think sometimes people have forgotten that about 30 years ago we here filed a groundwater claim about our deep ownership and marketing concerns,” Mair said.
“In the late 1990s we filed a complaint with the Waitangi Groundwater Tribunal, and it was not dealt with. There should be a stay on any consenting aquifer until this matter is dealt with, with our iwi and hapū.
Ken Mair filed Wai 671 with Waitangi Court in 1997 on Tūpoho’s behalf. It concerns groundwater rights in the Whanganui area and asserts that groundwater is a taonga protected by Article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi, guaranteeing the Tūpoho ownership and rangatiratanga of the resource.
The claim asserts that ownership of groundwater is an exclusive right to use the resource or to consent to others using it.
“I do not accept that water is sold. We have a claim in the Waitangi Tribunal, it has never been dealt with. The issues surrounding the commercialization of water have not been resolved and this debate needs to take place. It’s like a juggernaut running just above us, being ignored.
“We know that the debate revolves around the ownership of water. This is another confiscation similar to what happened to us with our land – in this case the Crown and the regional council confiscate the water.
There are three artesian boreholes at the Whanganui East site, connected to an existing treatment plant by underground pipelines. The property is a former milk bottling plant previously used by Fonterra and Kiwi Dairy Co-op.
The borehole selected for the water bottling and ice making proposal is 237.5m deep and is located behind the plant, approximately 80m from the river.
Aquifer 182 intends to target domestic and international markets for its products – primarily restaurants, hotel kitchens, and retail and catering customers – using glass bottles and containers of rubber reusable bulk water. The ice would be packaged in consumer packs.
Mair said he did not participate in the consent process, but members of the iwi and hapū did.
“People challenged me and criticized me – ‘why aren’t you making it clear you’re against this?’ It’s a matter of timing.
“It is appropriate for our employees to challenge those seeking consent throughout this process – with all the frustrations that come with it. When you attend these hearings, it is strangers who hear these consents and, in fact, it is strangers who receive the benefits.
“But I tell you, you steal and confiscate taonga – water – without even having the courtesy to process our request.”
Aquifer 182 was co-founded by Geoff Murdoch. He declined to name the company’s offshore partner. He told the hearing that the company is based in New Zealand, with two local directors, Marshall Tangaroa and Declan Rogers, who own 50% of the company’s shares.
Murdoch declined to name the remaining 50% stake, citing the commercial sensitivity of the information, but said it was held by offshore interests.
The application was made in 2018 to the Horizons Regional Council under the Resource Management Act. He received 37 submissions from the public – 33 against and four in favor. A hearing was held in Whanganui on August 4. Concerns raised included how the mauri, or life force, of water would be affected and how the water would be used and packaged.
Independent Hearing Commissioners Christine Foster and Vicki Morrison-Shaw said in their written decision last week that the proposed groundwater withdrawal would not directly physically affect Te Awa Tupua (the Whanganui River) and evidence showed that There was a low probability of a direct connection between the deep bore aquifer and the flow of the Te Awa Tupua River.
“The applicant’s engagement with tangata whenua has been genuine, respectful and spans several years, resulting in a number of fundamental changes (improvements) to the proposal and proposed mitigation.
“The candidate has demonstrated over a period of four years a genuine desire to work collaboratively with iwi and hapū for the benefit of all.”
Any negative effects on the underground aquifer would be minor and would be subject to monitoring, including monitoring the cultural health of the groundwater mauri.
The commissioners said the sale of bottled water and ice resulting from the treatment of abstracted groundwater and the ownership of the claimant company were not issues that determined their decision.
Commissioners said the water bottling plant would bring economic and social benefits, including jobs.
Consent was granted at 2035.
The Horizons Regional Council said it would be inappropriate to comment at this time as a 15-day appeal period is underway.
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