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Published: 2008-11-12 00:00:00

Lake Taupo’s pristine water quality will be protected into the future following a landmark decision released by the Environment Court today finding in favour of Environment Waikato’s new rules.

New land use and sewage treatment rules introduced under the Resource Management Act (RMA) are detailed in the proposed Waikato Regional Plan Variation 5, which aims to protect the lake’s clear, blue water from the effects of land intensification and nitrogen leaching from rural land. 

The plan change was notified in 2005 after extensive community consultation. Nine parties appealed the plan change to the Environment Court, including farmers who objected to the requirement on land owners to get consents for their activities.

But in the interim decision released today, the Environment Court found that land use activities that result in nitrogen leaching, particularly farming, needed to be managed to restore Lake Taupo’s water quality to 2001 levels.

 “The court’s interim decision gives everyone certainty and confidence we can protect this internationally renowned lake, while ensuring landowners have flexibility to make their own business choices,” said chairman Peter Buckley.

“It’s a groundbreaking approach that protects Lake Taupo – the key contributor to the local economy – while ensuring foresters can continue to carry out their forestry business and farmers can continue to farm at the intensity and scale they have in the past.

“It’s not about singling out agriculture – new rules are in place for septic tanks, and the lakeshore communities will need to be reticulated. Everyone is doing their bit to protect the lake.”

Evidence shows farming contributes 92 per cent of the manageable load of nitrogen entering the lake, urban run-off and sewage contribute 6 per cent, and forestry, gorse and broom the remaining 2%.

Environment Waikato policy group manager Robert Brodnax said the new rules cap the amount of nitrogen leaching from the land into the lake at historic levels through a resource consent process.

This process allows for the implementation of a cutting-edge nitrogen trading scheme, believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

“Under the scheme, farmers in the catchment will be allocated a nitrogen discharge allowance based on farms’ past practices. If they want to increase their emissions, they can buy nitrogen credits from another Taupo land owner who doesn’t require all their allocated nitrogen,” he said.

Secondly, to enable farmers to continue their business as usual, Environment Waikato, Taupo District Council, Tuwharetoa Maori Trust Board and the Government set up the Lake Taupo Protection Trust to reduce the amount of manageable nitrogen entering the lake by at least 20 per cent.

The $81.5 million public fund administered by the trust will fund the conversion of high nitrogen-leaching land into low nitrogen leaching land uses, research into low nitrogen leaching activities and technologies and public education.

“Environment Waikato has always been at pains to ensure the economic viability of landowners in the catchment  – the council did this by capping nitrogen discharges at the farms’ highest level of leaching,  by stretching out the time frame in which we will need to achieve the water quality objective to 80 years, and by establishing the public fund.”

Mr Brodnax said several studies had shown any serious decline in the quality of the lake water would be difficult to reverse, and failing to act would have economic, social and cultural consequences.

You can find out more and download the pdf of the Environment Court Interim Decision from this website.