An iwi leader and an environmental advocate have hit out at Rotorua Lakes Council after it pleaded guilty to discharging a dangerous substance from the city's dump.
The leachate - containing levels of bacteria equivalent to raw sewage - came from the city's dump site and, in a diluted state, may have later flowed into popular Rotorua waterways.
Whakarewarewa Village Charitable Trust chairman James Warbrick said from his perspective his organisation was not aware of what had happened and he felt ''let down''.
Environmental advocate Lani Kereopa said in her view the lakes council and the regional council which took the matter to court both had ''a lot to answer for''.
The council was warned repeatedly over eight years and was eventually charged by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in 2017.
The council pleaded guilty in the Rotorua District Court in May to a charge under the Resource Management Act of discharging a contaminant, namely stormwater contaminated with leachate, on to or into land in circumstances where it may enter water.
Details were suppressed but that was lifted when the guilty plea was entered. After a four-year court battle, the district council pleaded guilty and faces a maximum fine of $600,000.
The discharge followed prolonged and abnormal rainfall. The summary outlined the environmental impacts on Tureporepo, Waihuahuakakahi and Puarenga Streams.
The summary of facts said contact with contaminated water can cause serious illnesses such as gastroenteritis, respiratory problems, skin rashes and other serious illnesses and cause serious environmental effects such as destroying fish life.
Details of the case were reported by the Rotorua Daily Post last week.
Puarenga Stream is where children from the village dive for "pennies" thrown from tourists who gather on a bridge at the entrance to the historic tourist attraction.
While that practice hasn't occurred since overseas visitors stopped coming to New Zealand due to the pandemic, Whakarewarewa Village Charitable Trust chairman James Warbrick said he would seek assurances the water was safe before allowing it to continue.
Warbrick said penny diving formed part of the package offered by Whakarewarewa Village Tours but the "river kids" had not been in Puarenga Stream since March last year.
But since that time, he said it was his opinion their skin was noticeably better and less blotchy.
Warbrick, born and bred in the village and a penny diver as a child, told the Rotorua Daily Post Weekend "money was flowing" from tourists before Covid struck and some children were making up to $150 a day.
He said Whakarewarewa Village Tours would need assurances the stream was safe before children swam in the stream again.
There had long been suspicions the stream was polluted but they had relied on elders in the village to tell the kids to get out of the stream when it "didn't look too good".
He said he was not aware of any official warnings from either council over leachate issues and at times there had been discharges. In his view, that was disappointing.
Warbrick said in his opinion: "Not only has the [Rotorua Lakes] council let us down but it is everyone, including the regional council. They should have put a stop to it earlier."
"The Puarenga has always been special to us ... It is part of our pepeha that the Puarenga is acknowledged."
Warbrick is also the chairman of Parekarangi Trust, a farm trust that neighbours the landfill. He said over the years there had been times the council had met with that trust over extensions to the landfill.
"They come with all the frillies and you believe they are doing a good job but actually these events have been happening."
The lakes council and the regional council were approached for comment relating to Warbrick's comments but declined to comment until after sentencing on October 11.
Environmental advocate Lani Kereopa, whose family had been penny divers, said it was her opinion the offence reflected a failed nationwide local and regional council water and resource management system. The issue with waterways was the reason there was currently a national review of the management of three waters systems.
In her view: "Both our local and regional councils have a lot to answer for regarding the desecration of the Puarenga Stream and the associated impacts on the health and wellbeing of generations of Ngāti Wāhiao, Tūhourangi, Hurungaterangi and Ngāti Hinemihi whānau.
"Co-governance, co-management and co-design of natural resource management systems with iwi must be implemented to ensure the mana and mauri of waterways and associated ecosystems are taken into account in all decision making."
She said these issues were only going to get worse with the anticipated increase in storm events and potential droughts.
"In this time of climate change, business as usual favouring continued urban sprawl, channelling stormwater directly into rivers and lakes, and supporting throw-away economies is absolutely unacceptable."
She called on local government to invest heavily in green infrastructure to rebuild Rotorua as a "biophilic, water sensitive city".
Both councils also declined to respond to Kereopa's criticisms.