Ngāti Raukawa gathered earlier this year to work on the Koputara Wetlands Restoration Project.
The public’s deep concerns regarding pollution of our waterways, water quality, protection and ownership are at the heart of a Māori water rights claim currently being heard by the Waitangi Tribunal.
Te Hono ki Raukawa chairperson Dennis Emery (Ngāti Kauwhata) spoke about the extremely detrimental effects on their awa, the Oroua.
Radio New Zealand reported Mr Emery saying the Oroua River was severely polluted and unusable in its lower reaches. He said the river, where his whanau were brought up, is so heavily polluted from the sewage plant, stormwater and stockyards it has killed the river.
Technical witnesses such as water scientist Mike Joy said the Crown’s responsibility to maintain water quality was a “systemic failure”.
“This has occurred through a litany of failures; including a failure to measure the important and meaningful symptoms of decline and a failure to implement or enforce any meaningful limits to halt declines.”
He said rivers and lakes in most of the lowland, intensively-farmed areas were polluted, while in national parks and conservation estates there were some of the most pristine and cleanest lakes and rivers in the world.
The lead claimants are the NZ Māori Council and chairman Tā Taihukurei Edward Durie maintains everyone owns the water.
Tā Taihakurei was quoted by Radio New Zealand as saying what the claimants were trying to do was to gain recognition for the fact everybody has an interest in water, everybody has an interest in ensuring the water is passed on to the next generation and future generations in the best condition that can be possibly managed.
The Waitangi Tribunal claim deals with the Māori ownership of water and geothermal resources. The existing regime in respect of freshwater is non-compliant with the treaty and has resulted in the pollution of our waterways quality. The claimants also maintain there is a need for urgent and bold reforms and the the Crown’s own consultation document Next Steps for Fresh Water, also does not recognise Māori rights under the Treaty.
The claim was originally lodged by the New Zealand Māori Council in 2012 when the Crown decided to privatize four state-owned power companies without first protecting or providing for Māori rights in the water resources used by the companies.
The Tribunal decided to hear the claim in two stages. The first stage heard in 2012 dealt with the ownership issue. It essentially came to the view that Māori still have ownership rights in water bodies and the Crown would breach the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi if it went ahead with the intended share sale.
Stage 2 is currently being heard and the first week was held last month at Waiwhetu Marae, Lower Hutt. The evidence will also identify a core of minimum necessary reforms that the Crown must implement if it is to make the current legal/policy regime for freshwater Treaty-compliant.
The Crown maintains no one owns water but admits Māori have legitimate rights and interests in water. They say the best way forward is to strengthen Māori involvement in resource management processes.
The hearing continues in March next year.