A company has ambitious plans to pipe glacial water from rugged South Westland mountains directly onto tanker ships headed overseas.
Part of a remote West Coast beach would effectively become a water-export facility, with billions of litres of water each year taken from the edge of a national park, down a remote mountainside and onto ships waiting offshore.
The large scale of the Jackson Bay project, which has been in the works for around 25 years and is coming closer to fruition, has raised eyebrows, as has the limited public consultation.
Okuru Enterprises, a consortium of West Coast locals, has many of the resource consents needed for the project.
It includes permission to take and export 800,000 tonnes of water – about 800 million litres – each month.
A hearing next month will decide if the project gets other needed resource consents, including permission to build its storage facility at Neil’s Beach.
The water would be taken from a dam at Tuning Fork Creek on the edge of Mount Aspiring National Park.
The water originates in glacial lakes high in the Southern Alps and flows down the braided Arawhata River and into the sea.
While the water intake is technically outside the national park, a website associated with the project uses the park as a selling point, saying the water originates ’’from a protected UNESCO World Heritage site‘‘.
It refers to an ‘‘unlimited’’ supply due to the area’s high annual rain and snowfall and water purity that is ‘‘internationally unsurpassed‘‘. A 14-hectare ‘‘water-export complex’’ would be constructed on private land at Neil’s Beach, a tiny community beneath Mount Aspiring National Park.
Water would be funnelled from the dam down 12 kilometres of mostly underground pipe, which would wind down the mountain across Department of Conservation (DOC) land, the Alpine Fault, and beneath a public road to the export facility.
It would fill up to six large holding tanks, capable of holding 160 million litres of water, before being pumped through an undersea pipe onto tanker ships anchored about 5.5km off Jackson Bay. While most of the infrastructure is on private land, the dam and several kilometres of pipe are on the DOC estate. In the 1990s the department granted the company a concession to build its pipe, which is still valid.
Okuru Enterprises chairman Peter Roselli said that the company had paid more than $100,000 for the concession over the years, despite not taking any water. It had also recently been consulting with DOC, which would consider the project’s impacts once all consents had been approved.
Roselli said it had taken many years to get to this point due to the scale of the operation. There were ‘‘quite a number’’ of groups interested in buying the water, he said. ‘‘It takes a long, long time to get all the consents. If indeed all our consents are approved, we can then go back to the interested parties.’’
He assured people there would be ‘‘virtually no environmental impacts’’ and the water’s source was sustainable; a NIWA report dated February 2016 said the project’s long-term impact on water levels would be minimal. The company’s application said the project would create between seven and 10 jobs. Roselli said it would also create export income for New Zealand and be an environmentally-friendly operation.
‘‘The West Coast of the South Island is having a very bad trot, economically. Coal mines are closing down, the cement works have closed down. It’s world-class water. The world needs pure water and it’s getting to the stage where it’s going to become very serious in the very near future.’’
Mount Aspiring National Park.