Mighty River Power has been granted resource consents for the on-going and future operation of the Waikato hydro system.
The system includes eight hydro dams and the Taupo gates.
The Hearing took place at Hamilton and Taupo over five weeks before a committee of Sir Peter Tapsell, Patricia Fordyce and Professor Alex Sutherland. The company sought more flexibility to the operating regime, which was generally agreed to.
There were 173 submissions, with 14 later withdrawn. All submitters generally supported the granting of consents, but had concerns to be addressed. Many of these concerns were settled through private agreements.
Submitters included Environment Waikato’s Asset Management Group, Hamilton City Council, recreational users, landowners, Maori groups and a number of other bodies.
Their concerns included the effect of low flow conditions, the effects on the environment from loss of wild and scenic river values, flooding of geothermal areas, bed degradation, downstream effects, effects on community water supplies and recreational use of the lakes and River.
There were also concerns about bank stability and water quality, including the potential for blue-green algal blooms.
Extensive submissions were made on the effects of the present and proposed operating regime. Maori groups were concerned about the loss of the natural character of Lake Taupo and the Waikato River. They recognised the importance of the Waikato hydro system, but saw the restoration and protection of the River as paramount.
Due to the controlled status of the Waikato hydro system under the proposed Waikato Regional Plan, the Committee had no option but to grant the consents, but had wide discretion over the conditions it could impose.
The Committee said particular aspects of the agreement for managing high flows were of such significance that they warranted separate conditions. A range of conditions had been imposed, including:
- ecological monitoring
- minimum flows from Lake Taupo and Karapiro
- high flow management
- management of Lake Taupo’s levels and outflows from the Lake
- hydro reservoir operating levels
Special provisions have been made for exclusion from the normal operating regime under certain circumstances, such as Civil Defence and emergencies.
The present Taupo operating levels were maintained, but the means of managing those levels were changed. This proposed new operating regime would provide an overall nett benefit, the Committee said.