Protection order proposed for NZ’s largest, clearest springs

  • Nick Smith

An application for a Water Conservation Order (WCO) for the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand has been accepted and referred to a special tribunal, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith announced today.

“The Waikoropupū Springs are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand and contain the clearest water measured anywhere in the world. These iconic waters are well deserving of consideration for a WCO - the highest protection possible for a water body,” Dr Smith says.

WCOs are the equivalent of National Park status for a water body. There are 15 WCOs nationwide covering 13 rivers and two lakes. This is the first application advanced for a springs. A WCO overrides any other planning instrument and requires the identified features or characteristics to be protected in perpetuity.

“I commend the applicants, Ngāti Tama Ki Te Waipounamu Trust and Andrew Yuill, on their application. The Waikoropupū Springs are a widely treasured and unique water body that attracts 90,000 visitors each year. The uniquely purple-blue water has a clarity of 63m due to the confined Mt Arthur karst aquifer through which it passes. These springs are part of what gives Golden Bay, Nelson and New Zealand a strong environmental reputation, and we must ensure they are protected for future generations.”

The original application for a Water Conservation Order was received in December 2013 but had insufficient information. Dr Smith earlier this year encouraged the applicants to resubmit the application with additional information, and this was received in April. Dr Smith advised Cabinet of his decision to accept the revised application last Monday, and the applicants and community were advised today.

“There is controversy in the region over the potential impacts of water abstraction and nutrient run-off on these precious springs. The advantage of a WCO is that any decisions made in future by the Council or the Environment Court on any resource plans or consents would have to be within the bounds of the protective covenant provided by the WCO.

“My decision to accept this application and refer it to a special tribunal will give an opportunity for the public both locally and nationally to have a say on the future of these important springs. The issue is not just whether there is a WCO but in ensuring the detail provides an appropriate level of protection.

“I am also having discussions with the Tasman District Council on how we can ensure the processes for the WCO can be aligned with their proposed changes to their water management plans in the catchment,” Dr Smith concluded.

Public submissions on the WCO application will be called after the Minister has appointed the special tribunal. The tribunal hears submissions and makes a recommendation to the Minister for the Environment, which can be appealed to the Environment Court. The Minister makes the final decision on the WCO.

For more information about Water Conservation Orders visit: