The Māori owners of Poroti Springs are justifiably aggrieved by the way they've been treated by local councils, says Labour environment spokesperson David Parker
The Northland Regional Council has given bottling company Zodiac Holdings 35-year rights to water that feeds the springs, against the wishes of the hapu.
The Whangarei Council has also refused to give the Māori owners a share in the council's right to take water downstream, although it rarely used more than half its allocation.
Mr Parker visited the springs near Whangarei today to talk to hapu about their long struggle to be recognised as affected parties when water was allocated.
"They've got a burning sense of injustice that they're been fighting for the preservation of the springs and decent minimum flows in the creek for decades, and they've yet to succeed," Mr Parker said.
Mr Parker said he was impressed with the work done over the years to protect the quality of the springs and the Waipao stream they flow into by the three local hapu: Te Uriroiroi, Te Mahurehure, and Te Parawhau.
"The incredibly generous thing I found about the Poroti people despite all their years of frustration, is that the water-right they're asking for a share in, they want to use it to improve the minimum flow to protect the stream and the instream values," he said.
Mr Parker said that was in accord with Labour's policy to prioritise the mauri or health of a stream over other uses.
He said if more people knew the details of the hapu's long journey, most would be sympathetic to their cause.
Mr Parker said the law provided remedies for Māori with interests in water, through Regional Council plans, Treaty settlements and a royalty that Labour would impose on commercial users of water. Poroti hapu deserved redress in all three ways, he said.
The hapu said the springs used to be waist-deep and provided kaimoana in abundance including watercress, eels and freshwater crayfish.
With the proliferation of private bores in the Whatitiri area, and draw-offs by the council and a local irrigation company, they say springs are generally now about knee-deep.
They feared levels will drop further if Zodiac gains consent to build a bottling factory over the road.