The development of geothermal areas is increasing. Changes in land use can damage delicate sinter formations and geothermal ecosystems. Careful land management can protect delicate geothermal areas.
As urban communities expand and forestry increases, more of the land around geothermal features is developed. There is little information on the rate and nature of land use changes affecting geothermal resources in the region.
We do know that geothermal ecosystems are often extremely fragile. Relatively small changes in the water level, water composition and temperature can be catastrophic.
Different land uses affect geothermal areas in different ways.
Subdivisions may affect geothermal areas by changing the natural water flows, and destroying or degrading geothermal features. Channelling stormwater into the Waipahihi (Onekeneke) and Otumuheke geothermal streams in Taupo has lowered temperatures and increased sediment in the streams.
Some farming activities can damage geothermal areas and plants, for example:
Draining and cultivating the land can also adversely affect geothermal areas. At Reporoa, drainage has left areas of sinter dry and destroyed springs and dependent ecosystems. Cultivation disturbs native geothermal plants, allowing pines, blackberry and other weeds to invade. The subsequent spraying of weeds has also damaged native geothermal plants at various sites in Taupo.
Other land uses affecting geothermal areas include:
Find out more about geothermal tourism.
Geothermal areas can be protected by:
The Department of Conservation manages some geothermal areas as reserves, and works with landowners to identify and protect geothermal areas on private land through Protected Natural Area reports.
Waikato Regional Council has classified geothermal systems to determine the most suitable management for different areas. We regulate development in geothermal areas through the resource consent process.
Waikato Regional Council is also involved in other ways to protect and understand the geothermal resource:
Find out more about geysers and sinter springs in our indicator.