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Published: 2004-09-30 00:00:00

Environment Waikato has released a draft Regional Plan change designed to protect Lake Taupo from the effects of nitrogen runoff.

Chairman Neil Clarke said the release of the Draft Variation was an important step forward in making the changes necessary to protect the environmental, economic, cultural and spiritual values of the Lake. Urgent progress was needed to protect the lake, because if action was not taken now water quality would continue to decline, creating a more serious problem which would be much harder to reverse.

Under the Draft Variation, nitrogen loading to the lake will be capped, based on the nitrogen loss from land between June 2001 and June this year. Input from manageable nitrogen sources will be reduced by 20 percent, using a public fund. This will be through a number of methods such as land purchase and conversion to lower nitrogen uses.

There are proposed new rules for managing land use in the catchment, with some farming practices controlled or requiring consents. There will also be tighter standards for urban development.

The draft will be distributed to all key stakeholders and people who have asked to be kept informed. Environment Waikato and Taupo District Council will meet with key stakeholders over the next six months to discuss the Variation and get their feedback, Mr Clarke said.

“The key outstanding issue is allocation of nitrogen. Currently Environment Waikato’s preferred option is that nitrogen allocation is ‘grandparented’ - people get an allocation based on their current nitrogen loss. However there are some stakeholders who would prefer an alternative allocation of nitrogen - where an average or more uniform amount of nitrogen is allocated to all land users.

The Draft will be reviewed after further stakeholder input and a Proposed Variation will be released in April next year for public submissions.

The $81.5 million total cost of protecting the lake over the next 15 years is being jointly funded by the Government, Environment Waikato and the Taupo District Council. The Government is funding 45 percent of the cost ($36.7 million) with taxpayer funding.

The public fund will be used to spread the burden of change more evenly across the community, facilitating changes in land use around the lake, purchasing private land and covenanting it to low-nitrogen use or retiring it from productive use, and purchasing nitrogen reduction directly where the land could not be purchased. It will also support research and advice into new, low-nitrogen farming systems around the lake.

The draft will be available from next week from Environment Waikato’s website www.ew.govt.nz or call Environment Waikato's Freephone 0800 800 401.