Monday the Regional Council staff put out a press release titled ‘Tukituki in the clear’, indicating that the most recent analysis of groundwater from HBRC-monitored bores around the contaminated Havelock North aquifer (the Te Mata aquifer) sampled last week by HBRC showed no abnormal presence of e.coli.

As incredible as it may be, the same day (and Tuesday) I photographed cows grazing along the banks of the Tuki just a few kilometres from the Brookvale area where the HDC drinking water bores are. I also on Tuesday received an email from a landowner who had recently observed at least 30 cows in the river further upstream near the Patangata Bridge.

Let me deal with  each of these in turn.

The headline of the HBRC release was unfortunate and misleading. It might have given the impression that the Tukituki had somehow been determined to have no relationship with the Te Mata aquifer and any contaminants that might be found in it — past, present or future. But that’s clearly not the case.

In fact, it’s established by the experts that the Tukituki does indeed help recharge that aquifer. And so any contaminants in the river will infiltrate into the aquifer. What is not known is the full extent to which this has happened or will happen in the future, at what rate infiltration occurs, and under what conditions (such as after major rainfall events).

Measurements taken after the fact, as were the samples just analysed by HBRC, will do little if anything to establish causality of the recent gastro outbreak. But ongoing and more frequent monitoring and testing is essential to provide more knowledge on exactly what the interaction is between the surface water of the Tuki and the aquifer(s) it helps feed.

Obviously this raises questions about the contaminants that are already routinely in the Tuki, let alone how these will increase if a dam is built that enables more intensified farming in the Tukituki catchment, including more dairying and sheep and beef farming. The levels of contaminants will surely rise, suggesting that — at the very minimum — a major re-think will need to occur regarding what constitutes safe management of the aquifers providing drinking water to Havelock North.

So sorry, the Tukituki is NOT in the clear in its present state, let alone a worse future condition.

If there’s anything that drives home more starkly the fact that the Tuki has been allowed to serve as an ready drain for certain farmers, one need not look further than the cows who are presently grazing along its unprotected banks — yes, ‘presently’ as in this week, while Havelock North is still reeling from water-borne infection!

See the photos below. Sorry about the top image (taken Monday); I just had my phone camera and it was cloudy. The clearer bottom photo shows a typical summer bathing scene at the same location below the Red Bridge.

The practice is presently legal, until the new Plan Change 6 takes effect in 2018 and riparian fencing is required.

How do you feel about that, people of Havelock North?! Only two more years until the Tukituki is better protected.

I’ve been campaigning against this situation for nearly ten years. I’m opposing the dam because I believe it will lead to further degradation of the Tuki.

If regional councillors Belford, Beaven, Barker and Graham had been in charge over the past three years, we would have moved heaven and earth to secure speedier and more effective protection of the Tukituki … and through that, better protection of the aquifers it recharges.

But we haven’t been in charge. Maybe that will change in October.

Tom Belford

P.S. And don’t get me started on the CHB poo ponds that overflow into the Tuki, still not compliant ten years after stiffer standards were ordered by the Environment Court.

Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks for this. Grew up submerged in this water most summers. Koura and eels frequent then. But also, most land along the riverbed then was in scrub and willow – not grazed much. This stretch of riverside has been cleared and heavily grazed of recent years and my kids won’t swim there now.

  2. Great that you have identified the role of the Tukituki in recharging the aquifer Tom. No-one has dared to mention this in all of the media and yet this is the truth of the matter. The heavy rains that preceeded this contamination just speaks for itself in my mind and I am just a lay person. I always remember David Renouf saying that the Tukituki recharged the aquifer, so this outbreak is, well … to be expected!

  3. Thanks again Tom for your commitment to integrity within HBRC. With elections looming, it would be really useful to have a list of candidates from all the local bodies, who are proactive, genuinely want to make a positive difference to bettering both the environment and economics of hawkers bay. Then by having such a list available, inform and encourage the otherwise non voting majority. Contaminated water has woken up the latter!

  4. Thanks Tom. I had a lively discussion with a local farmer along that stretch of river a few years ago about his cows pooing in the river. He is one of the few farmers in the country that actually owns the riverbed and he believes his riperian rights give him the go ahead to let his cattle wander all over the river. I’m guessing his livestock are in one of the pics you have in this article. No amount of argument would convince him otherwise. Maybe contracting campylobacter will make reconsider his stance?

  5. Thanks very much for this Tom. Your comment that the experts say the Tukituki does indeed help recharge that aquifer is hugely important. How do we help get that information ‘out there’…. who can we quote, where’s the info’….?

  6. Gudday Tom
    Firstly I fully support your wish for vibrant healthy rivers. However I cannot but think that the cattle in waterways is a bit of a red herring. If the water quality is deteriorating and the waterways have never previously been fenced surely it’s reasonable to suppose that some other factor(s) is at play.
    That cattle are to blame for nitrate loading has come about from work by the fertilizer co-ops at about the same time as a Nitrogen tax was being considered.
    From a practical viewpoint all the water behind a fence has come from somewhere else upstream. In fact unless it’s derived from a spring all water in the river has washed over or filtered through farmland, forest, urban etc landscapes. The pattern of a catchment is lots of sheet flow, plenty of little rills gradually accumulating the water into bigger order of flows. therefore I would suggest that in fact it is impossible to isolate a river from its catchment. Which is why I suggest that all the political and emotional capital is squandered by adopting such a narrow focus as fencing.
    Intensification of livestock *(increased nutrient loading) and poor subsequent management of effluent are factors affecting some catchments need to be addressed. Healthy cows grazing grass with sufficient fibre have a neutral fermentation which suppresses e-coli. The patties are relatively high in carbon (compared to human, pig and chicken) and the microbes beneficial and analogous to the soil. In fact the rumen is the repository for soil microbes in times of drought.
    We farm on the Mohaka river and graze alongside it on average 6 days of the year. This is sufficient to keep some access through blackberry and gorse which would otherwise take over. It is a popular fishing spot and the easier access suits older fishos. Further it is a floodplain which would pacify more water if all grass. (water speeds up squeezing between bushes and trees). Grass needs grazing or mowing to survive.
    Raw effluent (a very different beast to isolated cow patties) did significantly degrade the river a few years ago which has since been improved, reflecting the better management of the upstream dairy farm by landcorp.
    We do need to address water quality but please can the discourse more accurately reflect the inherent complexities.
    Yours sincerely
    Malcolm White

  7. Thanks Tom .I heard you on National Radio this morning explaining the situation. Expect the public to now be a lot more involved in the coming elections about these issues. Would be good to see an honest resume published from each candidate their values and actions and have the courage to stand up and be counted. It was interesting to hear Fenton Wilson being interviewed by John Campbell last Monday on National Radio

  8. Excellent work Tom. The recent “All Clear” report from HBRC is inconsequential and meaninglessly invalid. Public health is being “sold down the river” along with the cattle excrement and Waipawa sewage, while some councillors have their backs turned and eyes closed. This situation has to change before Hawke’s Bay residents suffering from bacterial infections fill the hospitals, a situation truly indicative of third-world conditions.

  9. Well done, Tom. Common sense – but not common amongst certain landowner/users who refuse to join the dots. What harm can it do/for our cows to do a little poo? Well, now we know how many kg they do poo per day, how porous and accessible the aquifer is (Waipuk river more than 60 percent aquifer-fed), that campylo is bovine, that nitrogen accelerates rate of bacteria … time to remake the sustainable farming argument.

    PS During the rains friend on bus along Chesterhope Bridge notified of cows using river for 3 days so rang pollution line and emailed and a temporary electric fence was put up. Goodoncouncil – but how hard is it for government to decree/assist with tax credits fencing all rivers. And good on scientists for coming out and forgetting about loyalty/non-disclosure clauses for the common good.

  10. Tom,Why don’t you and your cohorts concentrate on getting the Waipawa and Waipukurau Human Sewage and associated Chemical Waste out of the Tuki Tuki rather than a few cows drinking and occasionlly excreting into the water flow..Animals and Humans have been sharing the same water supply for centuries but most previous generations were more discrete and prudent as to the
    disposal or recycling of human waste.

  11. I am having trouble accepting the reporting standards and pretty clear levels of bias coming out of HB Today especially editor Andrew Austin Hall who seem’s to trip over himself reporting the disconnect between any relationship between the river water quality and the aquifer. Liz Lambert is just another patsy with more mouth than substrance. Why does HB Today report her bulls#$t as fact and marginalise the scientific community who are being starved of input?

  12. I flew in to Napier on 6 August just after the ‘weather bomb’. Approaching from the north, the fields inland from the coast were flooded & rivers looked to be overflowing. A geologist has observed that there have been big cracks in the ground following prolonged drought. Gravity does the rest. Why didn’t the DHB order more frequent & more thorough testing of the bores after this extreme rainfall?

  13. This is not a new problem. Fifteen years ago I lived in Havelock North for five years. In that time I contracted Aampylobacter twice. My doctor at that time reported the matter as it is a notifiable disease, but, as he said, don’t hold your breath that anything will happen.
    As I have no faith at all with the Regional Council, I take anything they say with a large grain of salt. We can only hope to clear the decks in the coming election and hope for some educated incumbents
    I also suggest Mayor Yule has been demonised by all and sundry, especially the media for basically what is a staff problem, he does not go out testing the water on a daily basis, and the snivelling councilors who have attacked him need urgent replacement. Imagine if they were members of clown Keys’ government and behaved like that?. So now we wait for the spectacle of rows and rows of so-called experts to line to expound their views on what they THINK might be the problem, and we will all finish up not a jot wiser

  14. Quite clearly politicing, Mr Belford apart from stir what else have you contributed to the District in your time at the council . Having the Dam built will mean that there is more water flowing in the drier months and will elevate some of the summer problems with the river. Not getting my vote

  15. farmers. most of them just don’t care. apparently fish and game approached 76 farmers in the headwaters of the tuki to fence streams entering the river , only 18 showed interest.

  16. Thanks Tom, glad you gave your stance on this, the HBRC spin machine really outdid themselves this time!

  17. Thank you Tom,
    What is 1+1? a window or 2?,
    So how I hear: we have “Poo ponds” that are not working properly for years now, we have cows pooing in the river, we have run off from farms (not only cows), dogs die swimming in the river that is fed by that poo, we are bottling nice clear water for China and we drink water that makes 4000 people sick, we spend millions on prospecting on a DAM proposal but can not fix the poo pond (how about a fence around it that might help and say ALL CLEAR now), we want to spent all the tax money we have for innovation, on one DAM basket, we change the calculation of revenue from the DAM from milk to apples when milk prices are low, and then we assume apple prices stay as calculated really high and apples grow where cows should have been, what a picture.
    And I say WE as we all have to live with what got voted for and are part of what is happening.
    To those who declare the Tukituki as ALL CLEAR I suggest a extended bath in the so CLEAR waters and bring a bottle to fill up some of the CLEAR water, to drink at the next meetings scheming great big DAMS yes and may the drink dilute some of the DAM thinking that goes on.
    To us who are NOT so inclined to call the Tukituki ALL CLEAR, I guess we order our HB water now from China.
    Crazy but I guess 1+1= window, with bars that leave only one DAM view.

  18. Kia Ora Tom, and kia kaha for standing out from the accepted status quo, never an easy role, and keeping the HBRC honest. Clearly over intensification of dairying in particular and over application of nitrogen based fertiliser are the main, not only, culprits here. I think it more likely than ever that these water contaminant issues will arise more often around the country, and the two paths to take on this are diametrically opposed. The “easy” way out is just to increase the chlorination and treatment of dodgy water; the harder way is to start working on the initial causes. you focus on those and we all need to tautoko that.

  19. Firstly, heartfelt thanks Tom for your continued massive efforts on this. The need for the regional council to get their act together on river health has never been more obvious, so very best wishes for your re-election campaign.

    And secondly, please don’t let us forget other HB rivers. We extract domestic water from an aquifer recharged from the Ngaruroro, so have a very personal interest in seeing more stringent controls on that river also. No RWSS type schemes for the Ngaruroro please!

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