Tourist spills resume at Aratiatia Rapids

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Downstream from the Aratiatia dam after the release of water turns into a specatcular, but dangerous, attraction. PHOTO/FILE
Downstream from the Aratiatia dam after the release of water turns into a specatcular, but dangerous, attraction. PHOTO/FILE

Power company Mercury will not change its operating processes at the Aratiatia Rapids following the Waitangi Day drowning of a young Auckland woman.

Mercury announced today it was resuming the tourist spill at the Aratiatia Rapids near Taupo with the first of four scheduled spills per day at 10am this morning.

The decision to resume the spill was made following the completion of a review by Mercury of its operations and safety processes relating to the Aratiatia Rapids, along with individual assessments undertaken by the Department of Conservation, Waikato Regional Council Harbourmaster and the Taupo District Council of their own responsibilities.

The outcome of the review sees no changes to Mercury's current operating processes.

Rachael Louise De Jong, 21, was with a group in a pool on the Aratiatia Rapids on February 6 when the dam gates on the Waikato River opened for the scheduled noon release of water.

Warning sirens were working and signs were in place.

She was swept down the river and drowned.

Rachael De Jong drowned near Taupo on Waitangi Day. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
Rachael De Jong drowned near Taupo on Waitangi Day. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

As part of the review, Mercury's safety measures at the Aratiatia Rapids were tested and confirmed as functional and fit for purpose, consistent with the more than 20,000 scheduled tourist spills since the company was formed in 1999.

Tourist spills have been a feature at Aratiatia since the station was completed by the Government in 1964.

Mercury chief executive, Fraser Whineray, said the primary hazard mitigation identified was the absolute importance of the public adhering to the warnings and staying out of the Aratiatia Rapids area.

"Mercury is continually looking at ways it can improve its operations.

"A key learning we took from the review was that while there is extensive safety mitigation in place at the Aratiatia Rapids, the real challenge is ensuring people take heed of the various warnings and understand at all times the dangers of being in the rapids and downstream vicinity.

"Greater awareness around the dangers of being in the water in this area is required.

"The most important message we want the public to take away from this is to please, at all times, stay out of the Aratiatia Rapids.

"It's not a place to swim or be in the water," said Mr Whineray.

To further raise awareness of the importance of safety at the Aratiatia Rapids, a joint statement with safety guidelines has been released by Mercury in conjunction with the Department of Conservation, Waikato Regional Council and Harbourmaster, Water Safety New Zealand, and Taupo District Council.

The statement issued includes the following guidelines to ensure the safe viewing of the Aratiatia Rapids:

1. Stay out of the Aratiatia Rapids spillway area at all times. Never enter, swim or kayak in this area.

2. Observe all safety warnings and signs. Treat the spillway and downstream vicinity as live at all times regardless of whether or not any active warnings (eg sirens) are heard.

3. Be aware spills can occur for both operational and tourism purposes. Operational spills can be planned or unplanned and can occur at any time 24/7. Water from the Waikato River can also flow down the Aratiatia Rapids at any time and without warning.

4. Remember the safety warnings are in place to caution people of the dangers. The only way to avoid an incident completely is to stay out of the spillway and downstream vicinity at all times.

Viewing of tourism spill:
10am, noon, 2pm, (4pm summer only)

Operational spill times:
Year round and anytime 24/7

Uncontrolled water flow (without warning):
Year round and anytime 24/7

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