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.