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The Tukituki: Always a Taonga

The Tukituki River is regarded as a taonga (treasured possession) by the hapu of Tamatea and Heretaunga (CHB and Hastings Districts). It will always be a taonga, and our fervent wish is that other river users will start treating it as such.

To tangata whenua, a river is a source of life, a provider of physical and spiritual sustenance, a teacher, a place of solace, reflection, nourishment, learning, and recreation. It is part of our whakapapa connection to the land.

Hapu along the Tukituki are rohe (tribal or hapu area) specific. Within the Tukituki catchment, there is not one Mãori view but a range of views, as the mana of our hapu is often expressed at the sub-catchment level. There appears to be a lack of respect for this however in current resource management planning. Current management of the Tukituki conflicts with many values inherent within tikanga Mãori. For a long time now, economics has been the main driver for setting water policy.

Issues arising

Our Regional Council recently convened the Regional Planning Committee, which is seen as an opportunity for tangata whenua to share management of our taonga, including our rivers. Although co-management of rivers is out of kilter with the Treaty guarantee of full, exclusive and undisturbed possession, it seems to be a positive move. But as with a lot of government stuff the devil will be in the detail.

At time of writing, the planning committee consists of six representatives from Treaty claimant groups in Hawke’s Bay, plus all nine councillors. Originally there was talk of decision-making being done by consensus, but I understand this has now gone out the window. The planning committee will oversee resource management matters linked to the Regional Policy Statement and changes to the Regional Resource Management Plan, including the up-coming Tukituki plan change. Plan changes pursuant to the RMA allow for any party to contribute to the process, so the Tukituki plan change or parts thereof, could potentially be appealed by anyone to the Environment Court.

Other issues coming up in the near future are bulk consent renewals for the Tukituki in 2013, further policy development to inform the renewal of consents to take water from the Karamu and the Ngaruroro River, and perhaps designations and other issues related to the water storage dam in Central Hawke’s Bay.

Each of these deals with resources outside the rohe of current Mãori representatives on the planning committee. For various reasons, tangata whenua of Heretaunga and Tamatea who hold mana over the Tukituki and other catchments, are not at the planning table. Some mechanism will need to be found to engage effectively with He Toa Takitini, the large natural group representative of Heretaunga and Tamatea hapu interests. It would seem strange having decisions affecting these rivers being made without their input to the process.

Management of natural resources is vested in regional councils, whose duties are to take into account the interests of all, while giving Mãori values an adequate degree of priority. Past practices at our Regional Council have seen Mãori interests in water relegated in favour of economic development opportunities. Over the last decade water has become a contentious issue with a scramble to increase acreage under irrigation due to water’s ability to double or triple the value of a farm or other agricultural enterprise.


Water within the Tukituki system is over-allocated and this is contributing to stretches of dry riverbed, such as regularly occurs on the Waipawa River upstream of the confluence with the Manga-o-nuku. This section of river is sometimes dry for up to 14 kilometres, breaking the natural connection for fish to utilise the streams and headwaters of the Waipawa River west of Highway 50. It also diminishes public amenity, environmental and cultural values. The Waipawa starts drying up when the flow at the RDS gauging site near Highway 2 is around 2,800 litres per second. Ironically, the current minimum flow here is set at 2,300.

The Kahahakuri, Ongaonga, Mangamate and other Tukituki tributaries also run out of water on a regular basis. Part of the cause lies in Council’s past assumption that ground water was separate from surface water, and failure to acknowledge the interconnections between the two in their decision-making.

It was interesting to note during the land and water forum meetings, the desire to make our waterways swimmable. It would be difficult to swim in these rivers for much of a Hawke’s Bay summer.

Swimmable implies action on top of or through the water. We may need to invent a new word for parts of the Tukituki system, because for much of the summer irrigation season, if any water is there, it’s only up to your ankles.

There is growing awareness of the interaction between rivers and streams and ground water resources on the Ruataniwha Plains. Ground water takes out here influence the flow of the Tukituki and Waipawa Rivers and aquatic health. Ground water abstraction needs to be subject to minimum flow restrictions currently under investigation by the HBRC. If we were to take the recommendations of the proposed National Policy Statement for Ecological Flows into account, plus the Cawthron Institute’s fish habitat work, the Tukituki minimum flows should be raised significantly.

Historically, concern has been confined to the habitat of trout, as this is a statutory requirement. Consequently our indigenous fish species and their habitats have been allowed to decline to a state where the survival of several key species is seriously threatened.

Irrigators are reluctant to surrender any part of their allocation from the Tukituki, even when they aren’t using it. The last bulk consent renewals for the Tukituki revealed that many consent holders were using less than 60% of their allocations, and a couple hadn’t used any water at all, although they had held their consents for around ten years. Lately, water storage has been seen as a potential solution to the over-allocation issue, but the price of getting water from a dam on the Makaroro River to the farms on the Ruataniwha Plains is prohibitive.

Setting higher minimum flows across a range of sites and tributaries may provide Regional Council with leverage to induce farmers to change from ground or surface water takes to water from storage, as the higher trigger points will reduce security of supply. Whether these irrigators will pay for access to Makaroro water or store water on-farm though, is a moot point.