20 September 2023

A draft ‘care plan’ for the sustainable management of the Rotorua Geothermal System has now been released for public feedback by Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

The Rotorua Geothermal System Management Plan (SMP) has been developed for the Rotorua Geothermal System (Ngā Wai Ariki o Rotorua), which lies underneath Rotorua city.

The system management plan contains important information, guidance and actions about management of the geothermal system, to help protect the taonga for future generations. It has been developed over the past five years with tangata whenua and the community, and is backed by decades of scientific monitoring and research.

The SMP will inform a formal plan change to the Regional Natural Resources Plan next year, which will set out policies and rules to ensure the system is sustainably managed, now and into the future.

Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s General Manager Science and Strategy Namouta Poutasi says the national significance of geothermal in Rotorua can’t be overstated, which is why it needs to be carefully managed.

“Geothermal is a key part of our region’s economy, culture and heritage. As well as providing tourism, energy, and wellness opportunities, the cultural and natural significance are part of our national identity.

“Ngā Wai Ariki o Rotorua is a fragile and complex system. With more than 1,500 recorded geothermal surface features, it is still recovering from our past mistreatment, when regulations were less stringent and overuse was more prevalent.”

Since the bore closures implemented by the Government in 1989, the system has been in recovery. Working with GNS, the Regional Council has been monitoring the aquifer pressure and surface features to understand the system’s health.

However, while monitoring shows that the system is currently stable with existing levels of use, it is responsive to external factors (such as increases in use and climate) and requires consistent management to ensure it remains healthy.

“The science tells us that there is not an endless source of geothermal energy from the system and overuse puts the whole system at risk of decline,” says Ms Poutasi.

“Research and our past experience shows that the system cannot handle new pressures or unlimited demand for geothermal water, energy and heat.”

While it is the Regional Council’s role to monitor and regulate the use of geothermal in the region, Ms Poutasi says it will be a joint effort with the community to ensure its protection and sustainable use, and the first step in that journey is through the SMP.

“Ensuring a sustainable future for Ngā Wai Ariki o Rotorua and protection of its vulnerable and irreplaceable surface features, such as geysers and hot pools, is of utmost importance and is a collective responsibility.

“We want to hear from the community about what they value about geothermal, how they might like to see it managed and if what we’re proposing in the SMP is the right way to achieve this.”

The SMP is now open for feedback through to Friday 8 December 2023. There are two ways for the community to have their say:

  • Online through the Regional Council’s Participate portal: participate.boprc.govt.nz/rotorua-geothermal
  • At a series of public drop-in session held throughout October 2023:
    • Thursday 12 October, 10am – 2pm, Rotorua Yacht Club
    • Tuesday 17 October, 10am – 2pm, Mokoia Community Association Hall
    • Thursday 19 October, 2pm – 6pm, Arawa Bowling Club

Feedback will then be considered by a joint panel of Bay of Plenty Regional Council and haukāinga representatives before the plan is finalised and adopted next year ahead of the formal plan change process.

For more information, research documents and fact sheets, please visit the website boprc.govt.nz/geothermal or contact the team on 0800 884 880.