An avocado orchard in the Far North has been vandalised – alongside the words “water thieves” – in an apparent protest against water usage in the parched region.
Windbreaks have been slashed and graffitied, water pipes have been cut and about 20 trees have been killed over the Christmas period at Mapua Orchard, near Houhora.
Orchard manager Ian Broadhurst said it wasn’t the first time this had happened, but it was definitely the worst.
He said Mapua was part of a wider group of 17 orchards in the region that had applied to the Northland Regional Council for consents to draw water from the Aupōuri aquifer.
“We went through the process, the council then asked us to go to a commissioners hearing, which we did, and they approved the water consent.”
He said the Department of Conservation then appealed that approval at the Environment Court, citing concerns about the impact it would have on the nearby Kaimaumau wetland – home to the declining fernbird, eight species of orchid and the Northland green gecko.
But Broadhurst said the consent was still granted, with very strict conditions relating to monitoring of the aquifer.
“Obviously we’ve got some other people who’ve decided to take the law into their own hands and started damaging the property,” Broadhurst said.
But the orchard was good for the region’s economy, and had provided 25 permanent jobs, he said.
Police are investigating the incident, and are in the process of reviewing CCTV footage. A spokesperson said it appeared there were two perpetrators involved in the vandalism, and they knew the property.
Broadhurst said a person in the footage was wearing distinctive clothing and he hoped the community would help to identify them.
Far North Mayor John Carter has condemned the vandalism.
“We do need to make sure the aquifer is protected, but for people to go and vandalise other people’s property is not tolerated.”
He said there was public concern that overuse of the Aupōuri aquifer could lead to it being damaged or even destroyed. But he welcomed the avocado industry’s expansion into the region, as long as it remained sustainable and did not do damage to the environment.
In December, the Northland Regional Council discovered a survey of the aquifer that was used to determine 24 consent applications from avocado growers seeking to extract water was inaccurate. The data used in the assessments were about 30 years old.
The finding potentially means there is less water available in the north-eastern part of the aquifer than previously thought, but it also means there may be more available on the northern-western side.