The Pukenui-Houhora Residents' Association has called on the Far North District Council to object to 24 applications to collectively take more than six million cubic metres of water a year from the Aupōuri aquifer (More requests for water from Aupōuri aquifer, October 15).
Acting secretary Dr Bill Morris wrote to mayor John Carter and CEO Shaun Clarke, saying it was beyond the means of most domestic bore users to make a submission on even one, let alone 24 separate applications.
He asked that the FNDC lodge a submission on behalf of the Pukenui-Houhora community, objecting to the manner in which and to whom the applications had been notified, and objecting to the total amount of water proposed to be taken.
The association also asked that the council immediately make an application in its own right to safeguard the aquifer for the future use of the community, given that future climate change may lead to greatly reduced rainfall, which could affect the re-charge of the aquifer, and compromise the water supplies of those households that relied on rainwater collection.
"We see no cogent reason for the FNDC to fail to do so," he wrote.
Dr Morris quoted the Pukenui-Houhora Community Development Plan, "submitted at the FNDC's request" in 2011, which stated that aquifers would be conserved by minimising commercial exploitation, and that the potential for contamination of shallow aquifers in particular would be avoided.
Deep aquifers would continue to be closely monitored for falling levels and quality, and long-term planning would take account of the probable need for a reticulated water supply.
"During La Niña and El Niño episodes, January rainfall on the Aupōuri Peninsula may fall to about 30 per cent of average levels, and tank storage in some households, especially those with children, may not be adequate.
"It is now known that much roof water is contaminated by faecal and other bacteria," he added.
He went on to note that in February this year, on appeal by the Department of Conservation, the Environment Court considered an application for water rights by 17 entities, applying together "at the Northland Regional Council's insistence" as the Motutangi-Waiharara Water Users' Group (MMWUG).
The Environment Court found there should be an adaptive management plan, in which the water take should be in staged quantities over nine years of 25, 50, 80 and 100 per cent of the amounts applied for, to an eventual total of about two million cubic metres per year.
If at any stage the aquifer were to show distress, the staged amount should reduce to the previously staged amount, and if the distress persisted, consent could be withdrawn.
In the same month, a further 24 applications to the NRC were made by entities, several of which appeared to be original members of MMWUG, though applying as different legal entities.
The NRC had not required these applications to be grouped, as was the case for MMWUG.
"It was not until October 3 that members of this community were informed of these applications, with a deadline for submissions of November 1. We note that the NRC had seven months in which to inform the community," Dr Morris said.
"Submissions are to be limited to 'affected persons', alleged by the NRC to mean only those with 'an existing take from a groundwater bore/well or a surface water body within the affected area'.
"As the new applications total 6,230,662 cubic metres per year, more than 12 times the originally permitted draw-down in the first year, and three times that permitted after nine years, it seems plain that members of the whole community are 'affected persons'.
"On the face of it, the NRC seems at the least to be co-operating to stifle objection by requiring individual objections to each application, by notification at the latest possible time, and by limiting notification to existing users of the aquifer, as if no one else is potentially affected.
"The Environment Court made very clear ... its concern and acceptance that the whole community is involved ... "
The court also noted that, "It was clear from the evidence of the applicant that there was no certain scientific information that could satisfy us that there would be no adverse effects ... from the abstraction of water", and "Inadequate evidence seems to be available as to what has occurred as a result of draw-downs to date ... "
Dr Morris invited the council to draw its own conclusions about the undesirability of granting a further large given "clear uncertainty" about its effects.