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The story of the Rawene Sewage Scheme.

Up till 1982 everyone in the town of Rawene had a septic tank for their sewage. These were not always very effective: they didn’t always work well, they got blocked or the bacteria were killed off, they weren’t always emptied when they should have been, sometimes they overflowed and the smelly effluent would run into the streets and down into the harbour. The Hokianga County Council decided to set up a system of sewerage for the town.

The Council applied for and got a Resource Consent in March of 1983 to  discharge septage to a pond, and treated septage pond and Rawene wastewater to the Omanaia River via a floodgated drain, and to discharge contaminants to ground and air. They got an engineering firm to design a sewerage system for the houses which would take it all up over the hill and down to the mangroves below the town.

Many people were not happy to see this plan and there was much opposition to it. Although the sewage would sit in a pond for a while, it would still go out into the harbour, would smell and soak into the soil. They said it was culturally offensive and environmentally unsound. The river and harbour would be contaminated making kai moana, paddling, swimming and fishing unsafe.

The protesters were told that the law allowed a certain amount of pollution and that sewage ponds were quite adequate. Cultural concerns about the mixing of human waste with water did not come into it.

The HCC was granted its consent, but with some new conditions: there would have to be two more ponds and a constructed wetland in addition to the first pond.

Years went by, the ponds smelled bad, winter rains meant the ponds flooded and overflowed before the sewage had time to settle.   The constructed wetland had a channel cut straight through the middle which made it useless.

In addition,  septic tank trucks brought sewage to the system from around the district. The local councils were amalgamated into one district and a Regional Council was set up to oversee such things as water quality.

In 2008, when the ponds had been there for 25 years, the now Far North District Council applied for a new consent to continue using the system for another 30 years.  Although there was now a Resource Management Act that actively promoted land-based waste treatment systems and had a whole section that acknowledged Maori cultural values, the FNDC did not want to consider any other options.  Despite the tests that the RC had done (not as often as they should!) which showed that even the low standards in the original consent were often not met, they did not want to accept that anything needed to be done.

A cursory look at other possibilities was done, but these were dismissed without real thought or consultation.

There were only ten days for the community to lodge an objection – but hundreds turned out to a big meeting to discuss the consent and in that short period of time 132 objections to the consent were filed. Many represented groups of people, not just individuals.


Hundreds of people turned out in person at the hearings which were held many months down the track. The term of consent was shortened from 30 years to 20. Apart from some minor tightening of procedures, only one condition was placed on the new consent: that an extension to the non-functioning wetlands be constructed. This item was budgeted into the FNDC’s financial plan for the next decade.

Once again, cultural effects were pushed to one side, despite the RMA explicitly demanding they be given effect to.

Formation of Te Mauri o te Wai and Appeal

After being notified that nothing would essentially change, advice was asked of Malibu Hamilton, an experienced water campaigner. He suggested that a group be gathered, marae-based, to appeal against the decision and to demand a better process of consultation about the community’s sewage.

In order to appeal, a group must have a legal identity.

Te Mauri o te Wai was formed from representatives of the hapu of Ngati Hau, Ngati Kaharau, Te Hikutu, Te Mahurehure, Rawene residents and three Pakeha objectors.

The regular  meeting place was, and is, Te Piiti marae at Omanaia.

The appeal was lodged, the Council tried to stop  it and the Environment court ordered them to pay costs of $1200 to the group.

Mediation and final consent documents.

Before any appeal goes to the Environment court, it must go through a process of mediation. Te Mauri o te Wai had two mediation sessions with the Council and the result was something that was a compromise on everyone’s parts.

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