More prosecutions for water users who breach the terms of their consents should be the Bay of Plenty Regional Council's top priority.
That was the verdict delivered by protestors at today's Save Our Water rally outside the BOPRC offices in First Avenue, Tauranga.
Meeting at 12pm, around 30-40 people of all ages, genders, and races assembled peacefully to both listen, and have their voices heard.
The Tauranga rally was organised by Lance Talstra, who says there are over 20 sites in the Bay of Plenty that carry either temporary or permanent health warnings for recreational use or shellfish gathering.
“These include popular swimming areas such as Kaiate falls and shellfish gathering areas such as the Little Waihi estuary. Some of it is due to human pollution, and some is of undetermined origin,” he says.
“The main things I want to know is the timeline. Are these permanent bans forever? Or will they be sorted out? And how long will that take?”
At the rally, many people shared their opinions, both on water quality and water allocation. The common theme was ‘When it's gone it's gone', while questions included ‘Is there a cap on how many dairy cows can be in the region?' and ‘Would Nick Smith swim in one of our rivers?'
Although it was not a political rally, Tauranga Green Party candidate Emma-Leigh Hodges was there to lend her support. She says while the economy is important, people and the environment must come first.
Council regional direction and delivery committee chair Paula Thompson fronted up to the protestors, along with general manager of regulating services Eddie Grogan. They fielded questions from the crowd, and explained that while the council is always striving to achieve better outcomes for water quality and use, there are no quick fixes.
“The historic way of allocating water was on a first in, first served basis. We're now looking for better and more efficient ways of allocating water, which is fairer and more equitable,” says Paula.
“The region's water quality and supply is generally good but it's under increasing pressure and needs improvement in some locations.
“Central government is responsible for the Resource Management Act and National Policy Statement for Freshwater, which is the legal framework Regional Council is required to work within. We're investing more than $24 million each year into work to clean up local waterways and deliver on central government requirements.
“We're totally committed to setting water quality and quantity targets that meet the needs of our community, but that does take time. In the meantime, we're also delivering work on the ground with land, business and infrastructure owners alongside iwi and the wider community to strengthen water allocation limits, reduce pollution, and clean up waterways. We're making real progress, but there's more work to do.”
Eddie explains there are more than 1300 consents for water use across the region, with seven of them for bottling. He says in his nine years on the job there have been 30 prosecutions against dairy farmers for breaching the terms of their consents.
Today's rally was part of a series of simultaneous gatherings across the country on the same issue, including a petition delivered to the steps of parliament.
Regional councillor Paula Thompson.