Auckland's latest attempt to fast track more water from the Waikato River has drawn strong objections from Waikato-Tainui.

Mayor Phil Goff today pitched the idea of including the council's application for more water into the Government's fast-track process for post-Covid projects to stimulate the economy.

The idea has not gone down well with Waikato-Tainui, which says Auckland's water crisis is not a Covid-related event and should not be included in the fast-track legislation.

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This is the second time Waikato leaders have criticised their neighbours over a reliance of water from the Waikato River.

Last week, Waikato Regional Council chairman Russ Rimington said council-owned Watercare had "dropped the ball with its strategic planning" and should look at other options, such as rainwater tanks and enlarging dams.

He said Hamilton City was also more water-conservation conscious, introducing water restrictions as early as last October when Auckland waited until May.

Waikato-Tainui chairwoman Rukumoana Schaafhausen was surprised by council's bid to have its application to take more water from the Waikato River included in fast-tracked legislation to override the Resource Management Act, saying it had never been raised in discussions with the tribe.

"We acknowledge the current low levels in Watercare's storage system, but don't support a short-term response that could cause long-term harm.

"We are particularly concerned about the cumulative effects of the increasing demands on the River which is already under stress," she said.

Rukumoana Schaafhausen, chairwoman of Waikato-Tainui. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Rukumoana Schaafhausen, chairwoman of Waikato-Tainui. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Schaafhausen said the council's latest move shows a lack of understanding about the importance of the river and Waikato-Tainui's rights under its Treaty of Waitangi settlement.

It was inappropriate to ask Parliament's Environment select committee to circumvent the current laws while the Crown still had not resolved iwi rights and interests in freshwater, she said.

"As we have said before, Auckland's water problems are not new. Emergency measures were used in the 1993-94 crisis, so this is history repeating itself."

Tribal leaders are continuing to offer support to Watercare and Auckland's leaders to find long-term solutions to their water needs "while protecting the health and wellbeing of our Awa", said Schaafhausen.

The Herald understands one of the sticking points between the council and Waikato-Tainui has been a request by Waikato-Tainui for "usage based funding" for water from the river.

A Waikato-Tainui spokesman said "no-one is advancing that position from Waikato-Tainui or the council".

At the environment select committee today, Goff said he had had extensive discussions with Schaafhausen, who had expressed concerns about ways of getting water for the future.

"They understand there is an immediate crisis now and then there is the question of what will we put back into the river.

"Our undertaking is if we are taking more from the river we will put more back into it in terms of remediation of the damage to the river over the last 100 years," he said.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. Photo / Michael Craig
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff. Photo / Michael Craig

In a statement to the Herald, Goff disputed Schaafhausen's claim she knew nothing about the council using the fast-track process to take more water from the Waikato River.

"The chair was informed of Auckland Council's plan to put submissions forward at the Environment select committee, when council's submissions were being finalised on Sunday, along with the Mayor of Hamilton and the chair of the Waikato Regional Council," said Goff.

Auckland Council applied to the Waikato Regional Council in 2013 to take an extra 200 million litres of water a day to cater to increasing population demands where it sits in a long queue for a hearing.

Last week, Watercare invoked emergency power to take an extra 15 million litres a day from the river to increase production from the river to 165 million litres a day and reduce demand on the city's drought-hit dams.