The next step in what is hoped will be a lifeline for Murupara and its people has been given the green light.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council has approved a resource consent application to allow the first drilling and underwater testing of groundwater from farmland privately owned by Ngati Manawa Incorporation.
Ngati Manawa, working collaboratively with New Zealand Aquifer, plan to develop two bottling plants on the land, an operation they hope will create 1500 jobs in the region.
Te Runanga o Ngati Manawa chairman Kani Edwards was delighted with progress.
"We are getting closer to delivering a promising future for our people and for generations to come.
"Protection and sustainability of the environment is paramount for us, as is creating jobs for our people.
"Murupara has an unemployment rate of 27 per cent, four times the national average, and most who do work earn less than $21,000.
"We have been left out on our own for too long and it's now time to take matters into our own hands."
Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne described the proposed bottling plants as a lifeline for a town that has been depressed for a long time.
"Ngati Manawa, under the guidance of Kani Edwards, are leading iwi down a track that ultimately invests in the future," Bonne said.
"It's very exciting for Murupara and the most positive thing to happen for some time."
He said water was precious to Ngati Manawa and the testing of the aquifer to ensure there were no adverse effects was a good thing.
NZ Aquifer managing director Roy Harnett said the bore and flow test consent meant they were a third of the way through the process.
"The next step is to install a bore and test the condition of the aquifer. I am pleased with the robust and thorough process the regional council has required us to complete."
He said the testing would show the plan was environmentally safe and sustainable.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council consents manager Reuben Fraser confirmed the consent had been granted.
"When the application was initially made, it asked for consent to install a bore, test and use the water. We said that's not the way it works, there needs to be two consent applications, the first to install the bore and test the water, and the second to use the water.
"Consent has been given for the first step. The second consent will be determined as a result of the testing."
Fraser said, as part of the testing, water would be pumped at a rate required for the proposed bottling plant and monitored to determine the effect on groundwater and nearby users.
If there was no negative impact, the third step for Ngati Manawa and NZ Aquifer would be to gain Overseas Investment Office approval, once a foreign partner had been confirmed.
"With a project this size, overseas investment is a crucial component allowing us to set up, run and develop the facility," Harnett said.