Give us back our water, iwi tells Genesis

By laurel.stowell@wanganuichronicle.co.nz

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Gerrard Albert says Whanganui Maori want their water returned. PHOTO/ FILE
Gerrard Albert says Whanganui Maori want their water returned. PHOTO/ FILE

Iwi want the Whanganui River headwaters returned to them by Genesis Energy.

And they will not accept money for the diversion of the water, says Whanganui iwi spokesman Gerrard Albert.

He said it was "unfortunate" that the Waitangi Tribunal had not recommended a return of the water in its report on the National Park District.

The report was formally handed over to claimant tribes Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Rangi and Whanganui iwi on November 12 at Whakapapa Village.

It said the iwi had a proprietary interest in the mountain waterways and it recommended they be compensated for their diversion and the waterways be co-managed by iwi and the Crown.

However, Mr Albert said the Whanganui and the Whangaehu rivers had suffered by being diverted to provide hydro-electric power by Genesis.

The cutting off of their headwaters had hurt Whanganui iwi, and environmental, cultural and spiritual damage would continue and impede iwi progress if the water was not returned.

"That is our clear goal."

The tribunal's recommendations are not binding.

"It remains to be seen whether the Crown will pick up these recommendations or address them in other ways," Mr Albert said.

"We will not accept money for the water, but we will accept a plan to move forward and retire that scheme."

The rest of the community also wanted the waters returned, he said.

When Genesis Energy applied to renew its consent to take them, in 2000, the Wanganui District Council and the Conservation Department joined Whanganui iwi in opposition.

The agencies eventually withdrew from the legal process, and the iwi became the "last ones left standing".

The tribe has since maintained a relationship with Genesis - a relationship based on fighting the taking of water. Tribes from Taupo and Waikato, where the water is directed, also wanted it returned to the Whanganui.

"There's support all round for this. It just needs a plan of action."

The way the water was used in the scheme was inefficient, Mr Albert said, and there were alternatives that should be looked at.

It will be at least 25 years before Genesis' current consents to take the water ends.

Before that happens, the National-led Government may sell 49 per cent of the water user, state-owned Genesis Energy.

Shareholders would increase the pressure for Genesis to make a profit, and the iwi was not convinced asset sales were acceptable.

The tribunal report was not the first to say failure to consult Whanganui iwi on the scheme was a breach of the Treaty of Waitangi. The tribunal's 1999 report on the Whanganui River claim said the same.

The tribunal's report recommended Tongariro National Park be co-managed by the Crown and the tribes, rather than be managed by the Conservation Department.

The land had been "effectively confiscated" from the tribes, acting director Julie Tangaere said.

Mr Albert said the set-up of Whanganui National Park was "essentially a swindle" as well.

In 1986, Maori Affairs Minister Koro Wetere promised that it would be "a Maori national park" but Maori instead had became observers on the sidelines.

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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