New Zealand's largest freshwater springs 'under threat' from irrigation
Golden Bay residents are concerned the country's largest freshwater springs might be under threat from increased irrigation plans.
Te Waikoropupu Springs in Golden Bay is the largest cold water springs in the Southern Hemisphere and contains some of the clearest waters ever measured on earth.
Save Our Springs founder Steve Penny said he was concerned at the Tasman District Council's (TDC) proposal to increase current water allocations in the Takaka catchment area by 70 per cent, largely for dairy farms.
He said the crystal clear water in the springs was kept pure by unique and irreplaceable aquifer organisms, which may die if dairying pollution exceeded the safe limit, or river levels fell too low.
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"TDC is currently on course to permit a massive increase in water extraction rates, inexplicably favouring the interests of a few over those of the community," he said.
The lack of water allocation rules across Takaka catchments has been one of the main issues facing a group of Golden Bay residents working to protect and manage its waterways.
The 11 members of the Takaka Freshwater Land Advisory Group (Flag) have proposed a water allocation regime based on cultural, spiritual, environmental and supply needs and use.
It is based around minimum river flows aimed to protect the health of the water body.
There is an un-met demand for water in Golden Bay, with an informal waiting list of 12 irrigation applications.
The council proposes to allocate a further 356 litres per second of water from the Takaka catchment, on top of the current 500 litres per second limit.
The water from Te Waikorupupu Springs is cleansed by unique organisms called stygofauna living in the Arthur Marble Aquifer.
Friends of Golden Bay chairperson Dr Don Mead said the group had been paying for weekly water analysis samples at the springs for a year.
It was concerned the district council only tested the water in the springs on a quarterly basis. The group had been sharing the data with Flag.
Friends of Golden Bay found the nitrate levels in the springs were running at 0.4 mg/l, and NIWA had advised this was a critical level.
"We have been advised by Niwa nitrates shouldn't go above 0.4mg/l," he said.
"Stygofauna are sensitive to nitrates, so we are concerned that if we allow more intensification of dairy farms, this may harm the organisms."
Electrical engineer Andrew Yiull said the risks the TDC was proposing to take with the aquifer were both unacceptable and unknown.
Yiull was on the Flag for one year before stepping down "because the divergence of opinion was too great".
He is the co-applicant with iwi Ngati Tama ki Te Waipounamu for a Water Conservation Order to protect the Takaka Marble Aquifer.
Yiull said the water that bubbled up from the springs took 10 years to travel to the surface.
"It contains effectively the whole recent history of the dairy boom, so nobody knows what's coming to us yet from this time," he said.
"Despite this great unknown, TDC is proposing to increase the irrigation allocation," he said.
"Because of the interconnected nature of ecology, when one part collapses — it all goes — and it can be very hard to resurrect it."
He said the organisms in the springs were unique because they cleared the water, and there was nothing to replace them with.
Flag has used independent advice from freshwater ecologist Dr Roger Young from Nelson's Cawthron Institute.
Dr Young has provided the group with recommended ranges and values for both minimum river flows and allocation limits to protect water bodies, including the ecological values of Te Waikoropupu Springs.
In many cases Flag has agreed with Dr Young, but in some rivers, and for Te Waikoropupu Springs, the group has chosen a more ecologically conservative water regime by either lowering the allocation limit or raising the minimum flow.
Flag member Mik Symmons said protecting the rivers, streams and aquifers that fed the springs was always at the forefront of Flag discussions.
He said the group had worked on the basis that by protecting the spiritual, cultural and ecological values, most other values would also be preserved.
"For me the debate is not about saving the springs — I feel that's already what Flag are proposing with the cease take limits and in their nutrient monitoring levels and providing land management use. In fact, I feel that's what we are doing by putting limits where there are currently none."
He said it would be an "extraordinary set of circumstances" that the entire irrigation increase would actually be allocated.
The TDC referred comment to Flag coordinator Lisa McGlinchey.
McGlinchey said some of the figures and comments circulating on local and social media did not reflect the Flag's proposals in the report.
"While the Flag are proposing to raise the allocation limit in the springs recharge area, this is consistent with the recommendations on what is ecologically sustainable."
She said Flag was also proposing cease takes for all water permits in areas that influence spring flow.
"One of the Flag's aims has always been to protect the springs. The Flag see Te Waikoropupu as an outstanding water body and want to protect it now and for the future – something that feedback shows the community agrees with."
The Flag report was open to public comment until Tuesday.
The summary report and the contact details of Flag members are available on the council's website here.
To join the Save Our Springs campaign, contact firstname.lastname@example.org