The Tongariro Power Development (TPD) Scheme

Wade Bishop outlines the status of resource consent negotiations regarding the Tongariro Power Development (TPD) which affects flows on Upper Tongariro (Access 13 and Access 14), Lower Tongariro, Whakapapa, Moawhango, Whangaehu and Whanganui and Waihohnou rivers. This article originally appeared in NZ Canoeing 00.2, Spring 2000.

The TPD scheme effects a number of key rivers in the central North Island by diverting water from these rivers via the Rangipo and Tokaanu Power Stations. The rivers mostly affected by the TPD are the Tongariro River (Upper & Lower), the Whakapapa River the Moawhango River, the Whangaehu River and to a lesser extent the Whanganui and the Waihohonu Rivers.

The TPD resource consents project was started way back in 1992, when a publicly elected management group was set up, comprising of representatives from the various interest sectors (e.g. fishers, conservation & recreational, etc). I put my hand up then (to represent amateur recreation) and have been involved ever since.

Initially, the main accomplishment was to overcome the very high degree of mistrust between some of the parties and ECNZ and to build up to an effective working relationship between all those involved. I was amazed to see the degree of bad feeling that there was towards the Tongariro Power Development.

Since 1992 however, an immense amount of time consuming and expensive research has been undertaken to identify the real effects of the TPD scheme. Some very interesting scientific results has been produced relating to complex issues such as blue duck habitat and the dynamics of natural silt movements down the rivers. For example, the best river flow for fish is about the level of the current flow on the lower Tongariro River. I think however, that those doing the actual fishing prefer a little more water in the river. These types of studies are an essential mechanism for finding the correct solutions to the negative environmental effects the scheme causes.

To date during the project, several unexpected 'spanners' have impeded the progress of the project. The volcanic eruptions of Mt Ruapehu caused major delays to research studying the blue duck, trout and silt movement on the Tongariro River. The split of ECNZ and the emergence of Genesis Power Ltd as the party who now owns the TPD caused another 12 month delay while positions within the new company were filled.

As far as kayaking is concerned, several professionally produced environmental effect reports have researched canoeing and rafting concerns. These reports have effectively supported everything that kayakers already knew - namely that the TPD scheme has had a negative effect on kayakers' usage of the Upper Tongariro River, the Moawhango River and the Whakapapa River and has had a partial effect on the Whangaehu River and Lower Tongariro River. It should however be acknowledged that the TPD scheme has had some positive effects, such as improving access to the rivers (it used to be quite a 'bush-bash' into the Tongariro River sections).

So where are things at? Genesis Power Ltd have stated that the data gathering phase (i.e. theformal studies) is nearly completed. The next step is that Genesis intend to contact the numerous interest sectors individually to discuss and negotiate towards solutions. A specific set of the desired outcomes that kayakers are seeking was forwarded to the project back in 1996 - these desired outcomes will fundamentally form the basis for the forthcoming discussions with Genesis. It should however be recognized that the TPD scheme does not really hold a lot of scope for greatly improving the canoeing opportunities on the rivers affected by the scheme. This is because:

  1. The rivers in their natural form generally had quite low levels during the summer months.
  2. There is very little water storage capability within the scheme that can be used to provide controlled releases (effectively only the Moawhango Dam).
  3. The TPD scheme structures and other flow regime restrictions don't favour short duration releases for recreational usage.
  4. Blue duck have a higher environmental priority than canoeists, so canoeing is not that desirable on some of the rivers between August and April (ie. spring, summer, autumn).
  5. Diverse recreational groups (e.g. canoeists and fishers) can want different water flows. It must be acknowledged that the lower Tongariro River is a world-class trout fishing river.

Anyway, I'm still committed to having:

  • Some form of pre-programmed recreational releases down the Upper Tongariro River and maybe the Moawhango River.
  • An improved flow regime on the Lower Tongariro River.
  • A better 'deal' on the Whakapapa River or some form of mitigation to compensate for the effective loss of this river.

The intention is for this project to be completed within the next 12 months.