Many farms around Lake Taupo look as though they will cope comfortably with new Environment Waikato rules aimed at protecting water quality in the iconic lake, a key national tourist attraction.
Under the rules in Variation 5 to the Waikato Regional Plan, which are due to take effect next year, farms would have to operate at a level to ensure only a certain amount of nitrogen outputs from their properties get into the lake in the future.
The amount of nitrogen that farms could leach is being determined through a benchmarking process that will set a nitrogen discharge allowance (NDA) or nitrogen cap for each farm in the Lake Taupo catchment. Nitrogen caps for farms are being determined based on "best year" farm data from July 2001 to June 2005.
EW has been focusing on benchmarking farms over 100 hectares which comprise about 95 per cent of the total pastoral area in the catchment.
Variation 5 implementation manager Natasha Hayward, who will present a conference paper on the issue next month, says so far final nitrogen caps have been fixed for about half of these bigger farms.
"All of those with a final NDA look as though they will be able to continue current farming operations within their caps. Our work with the other big farms indicates they, too, will be able to continue current operations within their caps.
"This is really heartening news. It seems like, through Variation 5, we will be able to implement measures to protect Lake Taupo without having a significant impact on current farming operations."
In 2007, EW’s council ratified Variation 5. A number of parties, including Federated Farmers, lodged appeals because they were concerned at the impact it would have on farmers.
Last year, the Environment Court issued an interim decision generally endorsing EW’s approach for protecting Lake Taupo but directed Federated Farmers and the council to discuss final wording of the land use rules, and to provide revised rules to all appellants. Consultation between the various parties is nearly complete and a final report is due to be submitted to the court shortly. After that, the court is expected to make a final decision on Variation 5 by early next year.