7 Dec 2017
Māori culture inspires upgrades to Rotorua’s Wastewater Treatment Plant

The Rotorua community continues to inspire with its remarkable culturally aware and respectful approach collaboration and projects.

Rotorua Lakes Council and Central North Island (CNI) Iwi Collective (CNI) have made a commitment to end spraying treated wastewater in Whakarewarewa Forest by 2019 by upgrading the Wastewater Treatment Plant to handle more than 70 million litres of wastewater, which is three times more than it does today.

Upgrades including a new proposed Land Contact Bed – a world first and culturally innovative project with ancient origins – has been driven and developed by the people of Te Arawa.

The process is underpinned by manturanga Māori – Māori knowledge that is unique to the Te Arawa people and its lands. The focus seeks to restore, cleanse and restore in the most natural way: through mimicking the process of Papatūānuku – known as mother earth in Māori tradition.

Our Chair, Michael Nolan was introduced to the project when he was recently in New Zealand and was very impressed:

“What a great project integrating culture, waste water treatment, community and connection to place”.

He described the video that has been produced for the proposed Waste Water Treatment Plant project as “powerful and inspiring”.

The narrator in the video is Gina Mohi, a local woman of local Ngati Rangiwewehi hapu affiliation. Gina is on the project steering committee and chairs the cultural assessment subcommittee She is a member of the ‘Te Tatau o Te Arawa’ who sits on Council’s Strategy Policy and Finance Committee, and she is a member of Rotorua’s Resource Management Act Policy Committee.

The upgrade for the Wastewater Treatment Plant is a result of on-going tangata whenua concerns regarding the impact of the current wastewater land treatment disposal system on the Puarenga catchment. An Environment Court directive in early 2013 saw Council begin an investigation into alternative disposal methods for its treated urban wastewater.

The forest spraying system is now considered unsustainable as it is much less effective than when first implemented. Concerned stakeholders, including iwi, are now working together to find a better alternative through a project steering committee. It was formed earlier this year and includes representatives from iwi and other stakeholders.

Stakeholder groups chose representatives to go on the committee and Warren Webber, a representative of the Lakes Water Quality Society, was elected as its chair.

The committee has adopted goals aimed at finding an acceptable alternative to the current land treatment system which will contribute to improving water quality in Lake Rotorua, meet the cultural needs of tangata whenua, safeguard public health and be cost-effective.

The council is currently engaging with the community to find out what residents think about the preferred Water Restoration Land Contact Bed and the treated wastewater release point option.


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