Environment Minister Nick Smith has acknowledged the national significance of the Waituna Lagoon but stopped short of promising Government funding to help prevent it from flipping into a slimy state.
However, Environment Southland Chairman Ali Timms said she was optimistic that the inter-agency response led by her Council would meet the criteria for financial assistance from the new $15 million national Clean-Up Fund.
Environment Southland has approved a $2million programme of work for the next 12 months, based on receiving one-third contributions from the Government and the dairy industry. The Council’s share is likely to be funded from its share dividend reserve, although that decision is subject to a further round of public consultation.
The Minister visited the lagoon this morning for a site visit with Environment Southland, the Department of Conservation and iwi, led by kaumatua Sir Tipene O’Regan.
He then visited a dairy farm in the catchment with farming and dairy industry representatives before meeting iwi at the Murihiku Marae ahead of a comprehensive briefing from all parties involved in the Waituna response.
At the end of the meeting, Mr Smith said that the whole country was interested in the outcome of the efforts to save the Waituna Lagoon. “It’s not just Southland that is watching you,” he told about 70 local government, industry and iwi representatives. He said the issue highlighted “strategic issues for the dairy industry”; the performance of regional councils was under scrutiny, as was New Zealand’s way of “dealing with the tensions between water quality and primary industry.”
Mr Smith said there were three specific criteria that applications for the contestable Clean-Up Fund would have to meet: the government would not fund ongoing pollution; there needed to be evidence of strong collaboration between all stakeholders and the affected waterbody had to be of national significance.
Cr Timms said that the Waituna project ticked all three boxes and she was confident that the Council and its partners could make a strong case for funding.
“I was encouraged to hear the Minister refer to the opportunity to access money from the Clean-Up Fund,” she said. “Southland has a proven track record of collaborative approaches to complex issues. If the Minister needed proof of that, he had it this afternoon when he saw representatives of so many different agencies all in the same room. It was a strong indication of their commitment to a shared approach to intervention to save the Lagoon.
“It’s clear that while we are all coming from slightly different perspectives, we are all absolutely committed to saving the Lagoon. This will involve not only farmers and the dairy industry, DOC and iwi, but also our fellow local authorities, the Southland District and Invercargill City Councils.”