A small lake which members of the Whatatiri Maori Reserves Trust (WMRT) spotted on a Google satellite image led to the Northland Regional Council (NRC) fining farmer Murray Douglas $500 in November last year for building an unauthorised dam on his land in Mangakahia Rd at Poroti.
He was issued with an abatement notice advising the dam should be removed by March 20 unless he sought a resource consent to comply with the regional water and soil plan.
On January 4 Mr Douglas and his wife Marcelle, through their company M&M Douglas (Poroti) Ltd, applied for the required consent, drawing opposition from the WMRT's Te Uriroroi, Te Parawhau and Te Mahurehure hapu of Ngapuhi which have held title to the two-acre Poroti Springs Maori reservation on Mangakahia Rd near the Douglas farm since 1895.
The high-quality water from the springs is a valued taonga for hapu landowners next to the Douglas property and the WMRT has asked the NRC to remove the dam and return the wetland on the farm to its former state.
NRC consents manager Stuart Savill said the council had a statutory time frame of 20 working days to determine whether the resource consent application required public notification, limited notification to affected parties - both of which could lead to a public hearing of submissions by a commissioner - or non-notification, which could see council members deciding the issue without a formal hearing.
Mr Savill said the decision on the notification status of the consent application would be made after water flows were recorded downstream at Draffin Rd and a site meeting was carried out involving the consent applicants, a NRC processing officer and iwi representatives.
It is understood efforts are under way to arrange the site meeting soon.
The resource consent application says Murray Douglas' father worked on the Poroti farm in 1946 after returning from war service overseas.
He had felt a special relationship with the property and after buying the 40ha in 1984 he continued land management involving cleaning drains, herbicide spraying and grazing cattle which modified swampy areas.
Murray and Marcelle had bought the property from his parents' estate in 2007 and started a habitat improvement programme in 2010, fencing off areas where animals had access to the Waipao Stream.
In 2013 a 30m-long earth dam 2.5m high constructed across an unnamed tributary of the Waipao Stream created a reservoir with a surface area of 5800sq m.
More fencing was carried out to encourage drained swamp to regenerate into a natural wetland.
AB Ecology Ltd, of Tutukaka, was commissioned to assess ecological values of the wetland created by the dam.
An inspection in December had found regenerating wetland plants in formerly grazed areas and growth of natives such as flax, cabbage trees, tea tree, matai, miro and ribbonwood planted by the landowners.
The open water of the dam was providing habitat for a threatened grebe, NZ dabchick were breeding there and a pair of white-faced heron were present.
A commercial eel net set overnight caught 13 eels.
The WMRT title applied to the Poroti Springs Maori reservation and the Maungarongo Marae site across from it on Mangakahia Rd in 1895 had Maori managing the springs, which were reserved for "water supply" for the "common use and benefit" of the three hapu, according to a report by researcher Paul Hamer, received by the Waitangi Tribunal in September last year.
This ended in 1967 when the Water and Soil Conservation Act declared the Crown had control of all natural water, the Northland Catchment Commission was created and in 1973 the Whangarei City Council was granted the right to take up to 23,000 cubic metres of Poroti water daily.
In 1989 the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries was allowed to tap the Waipao Stream for the Maungatapere horticultural scheme and although the Resource management Act (RMA) in 1991 appeared to offer Kaitiaki communities future control of natural resources there was no compulsion for local authorities to delegate decision-making and they continued to allocate resource consents.
As a result, more Poroti water has been assigned for bottling by Zodiac Holdings Ltd despite local Maori opposition.
The Hamer report says the NRC had never commissioned a cultural impact assessment to help decide Poroti Springs issues.
"No hearings or consent applications have ever been held on marae, despite provision for this in the regional water and soil plan. In sum, at Poroti Springs, the RMA has delivered a very circumscribed interpretation of Maori Treaty rights."