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Efforts to protect Lake Taupo by reducing nitrogen inputs to the lake are proving to be highly successful to date.
Nitrogen entering Lake Taupo, either by leaching from the surrounding land or by direct discharges, can help stimulate the growth of algae in the high quality waters of the lake, a premium tourist attraction.
The threat posed by this nitrogen led to Waikato Regional Council’s leading edge Variation 5 policy, which is designed to maintain the lake’s water quality. The policy is the first of its type in New Zealand.
The policy, which has had substantial input from the community including through the Environment Court process, establishes the goal of a 20 per cent reduction in the annual nitrogen input to the lake by 2020. Achieving this involves two primary strands of work – capping existing discharges and the permanent removal of nitrogen by the Lake Taupo Protection Trust (LTPT),
The LTPT – funded by central government, the regional council and Taupo District Council – is entering into deals with landowners, including buying farms, so that less nitrogen leaches to the lake.
Also, farmers require resource consent to farm in the catchment. As part of that process they are being assigned nitrogen discharge limits or caps which they must operate under.
A presentation to a regional council regulatory committee meeting this month outlined that the LTPT had already entered into deals that would prevent 94 tonnes of nitrogen entering the lake annually from surrounding land. The committee also heard of the reduction made by Taupo District Council through improvements to its wastewater treatment plants.
“This represents significant progress towards the reduction goal,” said committee chair Lois Livingston.
Besides the work of LTPT, the regional council has been working with Taupo farmers to benchmark the amount of nitrogen their properties will be allowed to leach annually. Some 96 per cent of the total pastoral area in the Taupo catchment has now been benchmarked, while nitrogen management plans (how farms will operate under their cap) have been developed for 67 per cent of the area.
A large proportion of the catchment is now well positioned to gain consent once the variation is signed off by the court, the committee was told.
Variation 5 had also opened up opportunities, such as farmers operating well under their cap selling surplus nitrogen allowances to others, and also planting trees (a low nitrogen leaching land use) to gain carbon credits under the Government’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
The committee heard that rural landowners who have fully engaged in Variation 5 processes have realized the emerging opportunities and are thinking strategically and innovatively about such things as new land use options and branding initiatives.
“The end goal of all this work is the protection of water quality in Lake Taupo, a huge international tourist attraction. The regional council, in cooperation with the LTPT, central government, Tuwharetoa, and Taupo District Council, will keep working hard to make Variation 5 work as well as it can for everyone,” said Cr Livingston.