Waikoropupū Springs water conservation order

Find out about the making of Te Puna Waiora o Te Waikoropupū Springs and the Wharepapa Arthur Marble Aquifer Water Conservation Order 2023.

About the springs and aquifer

Te Puna Waiora o Te Waikoropupū Springs (the springs) are located near the township of Takaka in the South Island.

The springs are the largest cold-water springs in New Zealand. They are sacred to mana whenua and are considered te Puna Waiora in accordance with tikanga Māori.

They have some of the clearest water in the country. This is attributed to the filtration that occurs as water moves through the Wharepapa Arthur Marble Aquifer, taking almost eight years (on average) to reach the springs.

About the water conservation order

A water conservation order recognises and protects the outstanding values of a waterbody by imposing restrictions or prohibitions on activities that would affect these values.

The Environment Court identified that the springs outstanding values include:

  • amenity, intrinsic and cultural health values afforded by the springs’ natural state as Te Puna Waiora in accordance with tikanga Māori
  • significance in accordance with tikanga Māori (this includes history, kaitaikitanga, and customary protection of flora and fauna)
  • as a habitat for indigenous biofilm, plants and animals (including stygofauna – small animals that live in aquifers)
  • water quality and clarity, karst geology and aquifer system
  • ecosystem services and ecological processes
  • recreational values.

The springs are at risk from land-based pollutants

Nitrate is of particular concern. Despite farmers' stewardship, an increase in irrigation within the catchment since 2005 has corresponded with an increase in nitrate concentrations in the springs. The increase in nitrate is also related to gorse stands within the catchment.

The current nitrate concentration of approximately 0.45 mg/L may be close to a ‘tipping point’– a critical threshold beyond which a system reorganises, often abruptly and/or irreversibly.

The WCO sets out a two-step approach to reducing nitrate concentrations. Stage 1 (from 19 October 2023 until 31 December 2037) seeks to avoid any increases in current nitrate concentrations and leads towards the Stage 2 limit of 0.41 mg/L-1 (from 1 January 2038 onwards).

Dissolved reactive phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, and clarity have remained at their specified limits for at least 10 years.

What the WCO does

Under the WCO the Tasman District Council is required to protect the springs and their associated values, and to work with Manawhenua Iwi to achieve this goal.

The council is required to:

  • Restrict future permitted activities or consents which impact water quality or flow rates. This includes diffuse or point source discharges to land if contaminants may enter the water.
  • Manage four water quality attributes within the springs to specified limits. They are nitrate, dissolved reactive phosphorus, dissolved oxygen, and clarity.
  • Monitor the attributes and ensuring that future permitted activities and consents won’t contribute to specified limits being exceeded.

There is some scope for additional consents to take water within the flow rates and limits specified by the WCO. Any new consents will operate under a cease-take regime so that limits are not exceeded.

What the WCO does not do

  • Restrict or limit Tasman District Council’s power to set more stringent protections in regional plans and policies. This includes conditions for existing resource consents and setting lower limits for water quality attributes or flow rates.
  • Affect existing use rights or resource consents granted prior to the commencement, as long the impact of the activity remains the same. However, once the consent expires it may be subject to restrictions if required by the WCO.
  • Affect lawfully granted take or use of surface water or groundwater for the reasonable water requirements of dairy sheds operating since 31 January 2018.
  • Affect current or future (similar) resource consents for the Cobb Hydro-electric Power Scheme and the New Zealand King Salmon Hatchery, provided that their activities do not cause deteriorations in water quality.

Key milestones in the development of the WCO

  • On 17 December 2013, Ngāti Tama ki te Waipounamu Trust and Andrew Yuill (the applicants) applied for a water conservation order in respect of Te Waikoropupū Springs and associated waterbodies under the Resource Management Act 1991. This application was returned to the applicants with a request for further information. The applicants were also encouraged to further engage with Tasman District Council.
  • The applicants resubmitted their application on 6 April 2017. The Minister for the Environment accepted their application and referred it to a Special Tribunal on 6 June 2017.
  • The Special Tribunal held a public hearing between 17 April and 8 May 2018, with two additional sitting days on 27 and 28 June 2018.
  • On 17 March 2020 the Special Tribunal released their recommending the creation of a water conservation order.
  • By 8 May 2020, 10 appeals were lodged with the Environment Court against the Special Tribunal’s recommended WCO. Appellants agreed that a water conservation order was necessary, but opinions differed on how stringent it should be.
  • The Environment Court held an inquiry into the report of the Special Tribunal with hearings from 25 May to 28 October 2022, with two additional days on 17 and 18 April 2023.
  • The Environment Court released its report on 28 July 2023, recommending modifications to the Special Tribunal’s water conservation order.
  • The Minister for the Environment accepted the Court’s recommendations and presented the water conservation order to Cabinet on 18 September 2023.