In Search of the ‘Mauri’ – part 2

EP. 1 / New Zealand

In Search of the ‘Mauri’

For over 50 years, the Tasman pulp and paper mill has been the single largest employer in the Eastern Bay of Plenty Region.

It supplies all of New Zealand’s and one-third of Australia’s newsprint, but since the 1970s the Tasman mill has been legally dumping industrial contaminants into the Tarawera River, and solid mill waste into Lake Rotoiti Paku.

Tasman pulp and paper mill.

Today Lake Rotoiti Paku no longer exists.

It’s been filled with over half a million cubic meters of contaminated mill waste.

Over the years the Maori trustees have fought to protect their land and lake from the waste produced by the Tasman mill. Now, with the mill’s lease on the lake and adjacent land about to expire, they are about to take possession of it once again.

Environmental assessments measured the contamination and presented possible restoration options, but didn’t address the trustees’ main issue: how to bring their lake back to life.

They asked University of Auckland Earth Scientist Dan Hikuroa for help and he flew in to meet and discuss possible ways to restore the Mauri to Lake Rotoiti Paku.

Despite his desire to help he has doubts.

Dan headed back to Auckland, but I decided to stay on with Colleen Skerrett and trustee, Tomai Fox, to get a closer look at the mill and its impacts.

Like many of the local Maori in the region, Tomai was an employee of the Tasman mill for most of his working life. He understands economic importance of the mill, but has a personal stake in the waste it leaves behind.

First we head up to Lake Tarawera, which feeds the Tarawera River, which flows down towards the Tasman mill.

The water here is beautiful and clear. Families swim in the water and there are trout spawning. A little further down are some of the most majestic waterfalls I’ve ever seen.

Water is one of the largest inputs to the paper making process and the Tasman Mill draws it directly from the Tarawera River. In turn it creates a large amount of solid waste and liquid wastewater, harmful to the environment and human health.

As we reach the mill I get to see first hand what Colleen and Tomai are fighting against.

Since the 1970’s, the Tasman Mill has been treating and dumping liquid waste into the Tarawera River, that flows into the Bay of Plenty.

Colleen and Tomai take me further downstream to the wastewater treatment area. This is where liquid waste from the Tasman Mill is filtered before flowing into Tarawera River.

Next we drove down to the lake where solid waste was dumped. The lake is virtually non-existent.

While the treatment processes have improved, locals still call the pipe that dumps effluent into the river ‘the black drain’.

We eventually follow the path of the Tarawera River all the way to where it empties into the sea. All along I’ve seen the impacts from the Tasman Mill first hand. Now Tomai has brought me to a special place near the Tasman mill, where Lake Rotoiti Paku used to be.

It’s a beautiful fresh water spring that he calls “our treasure”.

Our Treasure.

Pollution may have taken the Mauri from Lake Rotoiti Paku, but the natural spring that feeds it gives Tomai and others in his community reason to believe it can be restored.