30 Jun 2017

Luxury lodge's water plan angers Northland neighbours

7:39 am on 30 June 2017

A luxury Northland resort's plan to take up to 60,000 litres of water a day from a local creek to irrigate its lawns has angered a nearby landowner and local Māori.

Helena Bay Lodge.

The Helena Bay Lodge in Northland was recently named the best new luxury hotel in the world. Photo: Supplied

The Helena Bay Lodge, built by Russian billionaire Alexander Abramov, wants to use the Mimiha stream - which flows through its grounds - for irrigation.

The lodge, recently named by a global travel agency as the best new luxury hotel in the world, has applied to take up to 60,000 litres a day in summer to keep its lawns green.

Its resource consent application to the Northland Regional Council (NRC) promised its "smart, formal, welcoming green lawns" would showcase "the best of green New Zealand to our guests".

But last summer the lawns turned brown in the drought.

Neighbouring landowner Rosie Stone said that was because the lodge had ripped up the coarse but sturdy kikuyu grass and planted a more genteel species that could not hack the heat.

"They were the only ones [in the area] who had a brown lawn," she said.

"They'd hoed up the kikuyu, replanted in ryegrass and then mowed it so short it didn't have a chance. Nobody else had a brown lawn."

Ms Stone takes a small amount of water from the shallow stream for her stock, but she said the amount the lodge wanted to take would damage the Mimiha and the life in it.

"It's a little stream that's full of life, and I don't think there will be any life there if that amount of water's taken during a drought."

But the regional council believes the lodge's irrigation take won't harm the stream.

Its staff have not been out to the lodge to measure the flow: they have based their assessment on flow data for a similar stream and measurements taken by lodge staff.

NRC regulatory manager Colin Dall said that was standard practice.

"In this case the rate of take was only a very small proportion of the stream flow and so it was assessed to have no more than minor adverse effects," he said.

Mimiha Stream.

The Mimiha is a "little stream that's full of life", a neighbouring landowner says. Photo: Northern Advocate

Concerns water take will affect aquatic life

NRC has also accepted the lodge's declaration that the stream is not used for food gathering, swimming or fishing.

But local Māori said that was wrong.

While an iwi official told the council Ngāti Wai had no problem with the irrigation plan, the hau kainga at nearby Mokau marae said the stream was famous for its eels and was important to them and other aquatic life.

The consent also angered Northland rivers campaigner Millan Ruka, who said the council had bent over backwards to help a Russian billionaire water his lawns, while discounting the views of tangata whenua and other locals who objected.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) has told the council it had no concerns about the water, but said 60,000 litres a day "seemed rather a lot for a hectare of lawn".

Fish and Game New Zealand said it was up to the lodge to prove there would be no detrimental effects to stream health and its ecology, and the lodge had failed to do so.

Spokesman Rudi Hoetjes said no sports fish lived in the catchment, so there was no need for the council to consult Fish and Game.

But he said it was DOC's job to preserve and protect indigenous fisheries habitats, and large eels lived in the stream, which were a point of interest for locals and visitors.

"The NRC needs to establish the mean flows... in summer and how any extra take will affect those flows," Mr Hoetjes said.

"There are lots of examples in Northland where streams are over-allocated and they fail to meet requirements to maintain ecological health. "

The NRC said staff had recommended that the Helena Bay Lodge water take should be approved, and it expected that decision would be made on Friday.

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