Partnership agreement to find long-term solution

Aug 28, 2020 | Lakes, Media, Te Arawa News


28 August 2020

Rotorua Lakes Council, CNI Iwi Holdings and Te Arawa Lakes Trust have agreed to work together towards a new long-term solution for discharge of wai tātari (recovered wastewater).

In response to significant iwi and community opposition to the current proposal to discharge treated wastewater to Lake Rotorua via a land contact bed, CNI has generously offered the temporary use of a set area of land within Whakarewarewa Forest, while work continues towards developing a long-term solution that will not include use of the forest land.

The agreement – Kawenata – Puarenga Catchment of Te Rotoruanui-a-Kahumatamomoe – follows extensive discussion and careful consideration by the parties to find the right outcome for mana whenua and the wider Rotorua community.

As a result of the agreement, the council is seeking approval from the Environment Court to withdraw current consent applications before the Court, relating to the proposed upgrade of Rotorua city’s wastewater treatment plant, and proposed discharge of wai tātari to Te Rotoruanui-a-Kahumatamomoe (Lake Rotorua) via a culturally-designed land contact bed. The parties have today [Friday 28 August 2020] submitted a joint memorandum to the Environment Court outlining what has been agreed and are awaiting a response from the court.

The kawaneta has been guided by Te Tūāpapa o ngā Wai o Te Arawa (Te Arawa Cultural Values Framework) and under the agreement, the parties will work to develop a long-term solution.

The parties acknowledge this is a difficult challenge. A lot of work has already been undertaken and there is still a lot of work ahead to investigate opportunities to get the best long-term outcome for the Rotorua community.

The parties have agreed to a Sustainable Forest Approach that will include upgrading Council’s wastewater treatment plant, and the short to medium-term continuation of discharging treated wastewater in Whakarewarewa Forest – with improvements and in a culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable way. The area of land to be used will be reduced from the current 400ha to less than 40ha and the treatment plant upgrade will treat wastewater to an even higher standard than it is now.

The kawenata (agreement) upholds the interests and mana of all parties, and acknowledges Te Whakapapa o Te Wai (the guiding Te Arawa Values) of Wai, Waiariki, Waiora, Wairua and Waiata, recognising the importance of water, health, spirit and rhythm.

The kawenata includes establishing a Puarenga Catchment Reference Group to improve and enhance the mauri of the waters in the catchment.

The parties acknowledge the significant work undertaken by the Cultural Assessment Sub-committee as part of the original proposal. The land contact bed technology and mātauranga will be applied as part of the Sustainable Forest Approach.

Rotorua Mayor Steve Chadwick says the kawenata is a Te Arawa-led arrangement in the best interests of the community, to enable work to continue on the best possible long-term solution.

“It is a hugely significant development and I thank the parties for their willingness to come together to enable us to get to this point. The ability to work through these challenges together to get a good result is testament to the strength of partnerships. 

“A lot of constructive work followed agreement to get out of the forest but we knew the discharge proposal was unacceptable to many, despite our best efforts, and Council committed to still keep looking for alternatives.

“This is essential infrastructure needed for quality of life, and the challenge remains with us all to achieve the best possible long-term solution for our community and our environment.”

Te Arawa Lakes Trust Chairman, Dr Sir Toby Curtis says the agreement is the result of extensive mahi by all three parties – driven by the guiding desire to develop the right solution for Te Arawa, the environment and the community.

“This is an important example of Te Arawa working together with Council – providing the opportunity for people to have their voices heard and for the best possible solutions to be developed as a result.

“Our focus is much wider than our environmental mandate, with social, economic and cultural objectives also a critical part of our mahi and decision making. We have worked hard alongside CNI and RLC to develop a Te Arawa-led solution that meets all of these objectives.

“Te Arawa Lakes Trust takes its role as hungatiaki of the lakes extremely seriously. We have acknowledged and supported the genuine concerns of local hapū around the original proposal. This agreement – and the long-term plan for the future – is the right outcome for everyone involved.”


RLC has operated a Land Treatment System (LTS) in Whakarewarewa Forest for the discharge of wai tātari (recovered wastewater) from the Rotorua city wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) since 1991.

Wai tātari seeps through land in the Puarenga Catchment before ultimately discharging into Te Rotoruanui-a-Kahumatamomoe (Lake Rotorua).  The Consent for this expires on 31 July 2021.

Whakarewarea Forest is owned by CNI Iwi Holdings Limited (CNI) on behalf of the Central North Island Iwi, being: Ngāi Tūhoe; Ngāti Tuwharetoa; Ngāti Whakaue; Ngāti Whare; Ngāti Manawa; Ngāti Rangitihi; Raukawa; and The Affiliate Te Arawa Iwi and Hapū.

RLC acknowledges that the use of land within Whakarewarewa Forest for the LTS is not consistent with its status as a taonga or the relationship of iwi and hapū with their taonga. 

In addition to the cultural effects, nitrogen levels in the treated wastewater discharging through the Puarenga Catchment resulted in the issue of an abatement notice.  An appeal against that notice was settled by a consent order issued by the Court requiring RLC to investigate viable alternatives for the discharge of wai tātari from the WWTP. 

That resulted, following several years of engagement, in the proposal to upgrade the WWTP and discharge treated wastewater to Lake Rotorua (via a land contact bed).

A number of submitters on the consent applications submitted for the proposal, including Te Arawa Lakes Trust, have stated that the discharge of wai tātari from the upgraded WWTP through a land contact bed, into the Te Arikiroa Thermal Channel and then into Lake Rotorua is culturally offensive.