Ground-breaking Research Used In Te Hiku Water Study

Oct. 14, 2022, 12:43 p.m.

The Te Hiku Water Study commenced in 2021 to gather data on the Te Aupōuri Aquifer system. The natural water source runs approximately 788m2 (78,808 ha) along the Aupōuri Peninsula and stretches from Ahipara, through Waimanoni and up to Ngātaki.

The research is a collaboration between government organisations, iwi and community members. The diverse range of expertise steering the four-year study includes Northland Regional Council members, Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Kuri, Ngāi Takoto and Te Rarawa. The Far North District Council, Department of Conservation, Aqua Intel, GNS scientists, local community representatives and the aviation crew, SkyTEM.

The goal of this research is to improve the understanding of what the aquifer looks like (e.g. depth, extent, geology), how the aquifer connects to wetlands, lakes and streams, the meeting point between groundwater and seawater (risk areas for salt-water intrusion) and how groundwater recharges.

$3.3 million was granted by the Provincial Growth Fund to conduct this study which involves flying a large circular electromagnetic tool below a helicopter and travelling over the Te Aupōuri Aquifer. This technology has only been used in the South Island and was flown over from Denmark to Aotearoa to conduct this study.

The study involves mostly ground-based research, but also includes aerial data collection via helicopter. It will spend the next six weeks, depending on the weather, collecting high definitive data on the terrain below the surface. This data will complement many years of water testing data collected from bore sites along the aquifer that will help those with an interest , understand the volume, and movement of this resource. 

The helicopter will fly in parallel lines 200-300m apart at a height of 100m. A loop will be suspended below the helicopter and will hover about 35m above the ground.

The northern segment of the aquifer was surveyed on Wednesday 12th October 2022 where the aviation site was set up on whenua located down Hukatere Road. Present at the first flight gathering was Te Aupōuri kaumātua, Heta Conrad. He blessed the morning, the occasion, the mahi being conducted, those involved in the research and all landowners making the kaupapa possible. He continued on to ask the pilot to "keep an eye out for a wild pig for lunch from the air," with a grin.

Project Lead, Jane Frances, of Northland Regional Council and Aqua Intel, commended the collaborative efforts and the abundance of collective knowledge that the rōpū brought to the study.

"We have been meeting for some time now and will complete this study in November 2024. We hope to gather enough data to help us better understand what is happening below the surface. We hope to use this data to build a better understanding around the things we can do to ensure we have water moving into the future," said Frances.

Eric Wagener, a long-standing community member, whose family have worked the land in the Pukenui area for many generations spoke about his involvement in the research.

"The community have been great participants and have been willing to support the study knowing that it will benefit the health of the land. Not many people, especially those who live outside of the Far North, understand the health of this land. It is highly productive land. To understand the aquifer, will help us understand how we can best take care of the land moving forward," explained Wagener.

The information gathered will be used to recreate a model of the aquifer and the data collected will be made available to the public in 2023. It is intended to guide:

  • Environmental protection

  • Sustainable economic growth and development

  • Northland Regional Council’s resource consents for groundwater and water management

  • Water supply availability for the local community.

Local iwi who have interests in the Te Aupōuri Aquifer will be able to better understand their resource and will be able to implement kaitiakitanga and hauora strategies based on the information gathered. It will also determine the allowable water-take for those who have made an application for resource consent. 

"The name of this aquifer itself is the Te Aupōuri Aquifer. We need to be able to access our own resource to implement better strategies that allow our people to live healthier lifestyles. This includes access to wai, especially in times of drought, a pandemic and of course in the creation of job opportunities, especially in horticulture and farming. Our research rōpū work well together. There is a vast range of expertise within and by working together we can build a well-rounded result for the betterment of the people," said newly elected Ngā Tai o Tokerau Māori Councillor, Penetaui Kleskovic (Te Aupōuri).

Kleskovic also spoke to Te Hiku Radio about the Te Hiku Water Study and how the study came to be. Born out of water-take feasibility concerns, tabled by the Department of Conservation after they petitioned against 20 resource consent applications to access water from the aquifer. 

The first flight was blessed with a nod from the weather atua, who curated a perfect day for flying. It also gave every representative a chance to express their concerns, their care toward and their commitment to improving the sustainability of the Te Aupōuri Aquifer.

It was an undoubtedly proud moment for all involved as the day marked a positive step towards understanding a magnificent resource better. 

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