The hearing on the controversial Water Conservation Order (WCO) is under way, with the first day of the first stage held at Napier Conference Centre yesterday.

Over the next three weeks, a Special Tribunal will hear around 115 presentations from various parties on Water Conservation Order (WCO) issues relating to the upper reaches of the Ngaruroro.

A small audience gathered at the Conference Centre for yesterday's hearing, where applicants lawyer Maree Baker-Galloway addressed implications of the split hearing, described the outstanding values of the upper Ngaruroro, and discussed the relevant legislation - the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

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The decision to lodge the application in 2015 was "not taken lightly", and compared to other WCO's, Ms Baker-Galloway said there had been a conscious effort by applicant New Zealand Fish and Game to consult widely on this order over a number of years.

This consultation resulted in an "unprecedented" number of co-applicants, and an "unprecedented amount of support from the outset".

She stressed there were local drivers - such as the Hawke's Bay Fish and Game council, and lower North Island Forest and Bird branches - behind the co-applicants who had a direct interest in the waterways.

Her submission highlighted the Ngaruroro river values they argued were outstanding - including its water quality, which was "unusual in that it has comparatively high water quality throughout its entire length".

As well as being outstanding "in its own right", water quality was also praised for its contribution in supporting native fish, bird, and trout habitats, as well as recreation and cultural values.

The outstanding habitat of the river was evidenced by the species which existed within the catchment, including native fish - notably rainbow trout - and birds - including the "nationally vulnerable" blue duck.

There were also "outstanding wild and scenic characteristics", and outstanding angling amenity and recreation, and white water rafting, and kayaking amenity and recreation values.

Ms Baker-Galloway's submission also touched on one of the key points of local contention against the WCO, with a number of submitters opposing the order in fear it could limit their current, or future water use.

For the needs of primary and secondary industry to be considered under the relevant RMA section, they had to be established as a quantifiable, realistic, current need, she said.

"If this need is established, it should only be allowed for if it can be accommodated after protection is afforded to the outstanding values."

She argued potential water uses submitters had identified - including abstraction for irrigation, and a storage scheme to augment flows - did not meet the definition of "quantifiable physical needs for the water resource".

"In most cases, those potential uses are not being promoted primarily to meet the existing needs of existing land uses, which is a quantifiable physical need", she said.

"They are instead a potential use for the future, which would arise from landowners policy decisions to manage their land differently, and to change the pattern of land use for the greater profit for one group of landowners and sector of the community.

"This is not so many an actual "need" now as a "want" or desire for the future".

Tribunal members questioned here on this point - including on the consideration of future needs, and distinguishing between community wants and needs - to which she said they could consider exclusion clauses in the application.

As well as the Hawke's Bay population, she urged the tribunal to consider the "national community" with an interest in the Ngaruroro, shown through the breadth of submissions from throughout the country.

Needs of the community also included recreational use, and appreciation of the river.

Also addressed yesterday was a query about the mandate behind one of the WCO applicants, Ngati Hori ki Kahupatiki - whose representatives recently declared they did not support it.

Given the time passed since the application was raised in 2015, she said it would take time to examine internal communications with the party.