A kiwifruit orchard has been convicted and fined $35,000 in the Tauranga District Court for unlawfully taking more than 18 million litres of water for irrigation. Terahu Orchard Limited pleaded guilty to the charge of unlawfully taking water for use at a kiwifruit orchard between November 2021 and February 2023.
Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council Regulatory Compliance Manger, Matthew Harrex, says across the year, the defendant took almost double the amount they were allowed to as a permitted activity.
“Regional Council has been working with the kiwifruit industry for the last 10 years to identify and address unconsented water takes. This result sends a strong message that Regional Council is actively assessing compliance on unconsented water takes and will take enforcement action where required”, he says.
“Kiwifruit orchards require large volumes of water for irrigation purposes in the summer and frost protection in the winter. The fact that it was a dry summer, and the defendant needed to take more than was permitted, is no excuse”, he says.
Terahu Orchard Limited purchased the maize farm on the outskirts of Whakatāne in May 2021, converting it to gold kiwifruit later that year. With no irrigation infrastructure in place, the defendant intended to water the vines by drawing up to the permitted 35 cubic metres of groundwater a day. The defendant then applied for the necessary resource consent to drill a groundwater bore, but did not apply for a water take consent.
In November 2022, a Regional Council enforcement officer carried out a routine site inspection to assess compliance. The water meter showed excess water had been taken and the officer issued Terahu Orchard Limited an abatement notice to cease taking more than the daily permitted take.
A further inspection in February 2023 showed that, again, excess water had been taken. Regional Council calculated that there were seven days where the use volume exceeded 500 cubic meters per day, which is up to 14 times the permitted volume.
In sentencing Terahu Orchard Limited, Judge Smith said a strong deterrent message needs to be given that it is not cost-effective to avoid obtaining a resource consent for a water take.
“The cost of a licence for gold kiwifruit is significant. They have become a significant capital expenditure which requires significant investment to get a significant return. The possibility of not being able to have adequate water to feed these plants defies any commercial sense of reality”, says Judge Smith.
In the sentencing decision, Judge Smith referred to the interests tangata whenua have in the aquifer that Terahu Orchard Limited extracted from, and the strong views they have in the preservation of the resource.
“The illegal taking of water is an anathema to the tikanga and kawa of how such extractions should be properly undertaken."
Judge Smith’s starting point was a $50,000 fine, but he allowed discounts for guilty plea, lack of prior convictions and remorse, which resulted in the final sentence of a $35,000 fine.
Terahu Orchard Limited has since obtained a consent for the water take.
For more information on environmental enforcement and to view the sentencing decision, please visit our website.
Image above: Bore pump and water meter.
Image above: Gold kiwifruit vines at Terahu Orchard Limited with irrigation sprinklers.