We want swimmable rivers

Tarawera River

Like many of Aotearoa’s river, the Tarawera is crystal clear at her source, in the geothermal region near Rotorua. But by the time she has been dumped into at the pulp and paper mill at Kawerau, and endured farm run-off as she flows to Te Moana-a-Toi (Bay of Plenty) the water is far from crystal.

This river has been used as a drain by the pulp and paper industry at Kawerau since 1954.

The river above the town is a beautiful clean waterway, valued for its canoeing and fishing. But below the town, the river is a muddy dirty colour. The effluent from the pulp and paper mills used to be a dioxin-laden foaming discharge that was visible out into the Bay of Plenty. Now much of the pollution the river endures is invisible.

The tangata whenua iwi Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Ngāti Awa and Ngāti Rangitihi worked with Greenpeace and local residents group Millwatch to force improvements in the discharge. However, after numerous court cases and meetings the river remains under a consent that will allow the current discharge until the early 2030s.

Two years ago Green MP Catherine Delahunty got close to changing the Resource Management Act, which allows such discharges without a time limit under "exceptional circumstances" but National blocked this Bill.

The mills claim that they will have a cleaner discharge over time but we have heard this for many years and progress is slow. Just to add to the stress on the river, there are a number of dairy farms leaching nitrates into the lower Tarawera.

Those with a whānau connection to the river have told us the deep grief that they have experienced as a result of their river being polluted.

What are your memories and stories about the Tarawera river?

To make the Tarawera safe for swimming again, the Green Party will:

  • Require as a minimum that all water bodies be safe for swimming in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, rather than the current ‘safe for wading and boating’ standard
  • Develop national standards to limit the amount of pollution going into water
  • Put a levy on pollution going into rivers. We’ll use this money to support sustainable land and water management programmes like freshwater habitat restoration.
  • Put a hold on all new conversions of land to dairy farms
  • Require resource consents in cases where the proposed land use is more intensive than the current land use
  • Introduce rules that require all farms to be fenced from rivers and creeks, and for riverbanks to be planted so that excess run-off is absorbed
  • Ensure Māori are recognised and supported in their role as kaitiaki of their taonga and tikanga
  • Make an amendment to the Resource Management Act to put a time limit on discharges.


Read more about our solutions to the freshwater crisis

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