The next step will be taken to protect Hawke's Bay's Ngaruroro and Clive Rivers with the Minister for the Environment declaring a water conservation order.

Fish & Game, Ngati Hori ki Kohupatiki, Forest & Bird, Whitewater NZ and Jet Boating NZ filed a joint application in December to the minister asking for the order.

Such orders give rivers and lakes the equivalent of national park-type protection and if successful, it will be only the 16th waterway in New Zealand to be protected this way.

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said the group was delighted the minister decided to progress the application and refer it to a special tribunal for further consideration.


"We are also delighted to see that the Hawke's Bay Regional Council has backed away from its initial opposition to the water conservation order and is now welcoming the minister's decision."

At a meeting in February the regional council decided to write to the minister opposing the order. Yesterday regional chairman Fenton Wilson said the council was not opposed to a water conservation order, saying the council could now move forward to explore how it might be designed.

"Certainty is incredibly important for our community, including our growers with resource consents expiring in the next few years." About 550 water consents are linked to the Ngaruroro catchment area.

However, Mr Wilson was disappointed the minister has chosen to put this application through to a special tribunal as the council believed the minister had good grounds to decline the application until the community had completed its current planning work for the catchments.

Mr Johnson said the water conservation order group will now wait to see the make-up of the tribunal.

"Our group's application is backed by a substantial volume of evidence which makes a very strong case for the water conservation order. We are confident this large body of evidence will help the tribunal make a quick decision," he said.