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Published: 2012-10-11 00:00:00

Very solid progress has been made on protecting Lake Taupō’s future water quality from the effects of nitrogen discharges from rural and urban sources, Waikato Regional Council’s resource use and environmental monitoring committee has heard.

Protecting the iconic lake is crucial for a range of environmental, economic, social and cultural reasons.

Under the council’s regional plan policy for the lake, the target is to reduce by 20 per cent the amount of nitrogen getting into the lake from manageable sources, such as leaching from farms and discharges from wastewater plants. This is aimed at preventing the growth of too much algae which can affect water clarity in the lake, a major tourism drawcard.

While lake water quality now is considered generally excellent, the predicted nitrogen loads to the lake in future mean there will be deterioration in its health over time. But the regional plan measures for the Taupō catchment being implemented now have the long-term goal of making sure that deterioration is addressed and that water quality in 2080 is as good as it is today.

The committee yesterday received a series of reports on the implementation of the regional plan policy for the lake. Progress highlights included:

  • All of the 116 farms within the Taupō catchment needing to have a nitrogen discharge allowance (NDA) established have now been benchmarked. These NDA benchmarks establish a maximum amount of nitrogen that can be leached to the lake from the farms, which cover nearly 67,000 hectares.
  • As the policy allows, trading and leasing of parts or all of NDAs in the catchment has been active. Most trading has occurred between landowners and the Lake Taupō Protection Trust set up to help implement the new policy – the trust is overseen by the Government, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Waikato Regional Council and Taupō District Council.
  • The trust’s activities have reduced the total amount of nitrogen from farms getting to the lake by 139 tonnes a year, a significant way towards the reduction target of 183 tonnes by 2020. The trading has also seen 5,800 hectares of farmland converted to plantation forestry.
  • It’s estimated that since 2007 approximately 30 per cent of nitrogen from wastewater systems that was getting into the lake has been removed by Taupō District Council’s upgrade of the Turangi wastewater treatment plant and the improvement of performance of other plants. This year, the district council has committed another $1.3 million to further improve system performance.

After the meeting, committee chair Lois Livingston said the positive progress being made to help address the future water quality in Lake Taupō was a credit to all involved.

“The regional council’s partners in the project - central Government, Ngati Tuwharetoa and Taupō District Council - have played a very crucial role, as have the many farmers who have co-operated fully with the benchmarking process.

“Our challenge now is to make the final strides towards achieving our nitrogen reduction target by 2020.

“The regional council is committed to working closely with all parties to meet this goal.”