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Published: 2007-03-16 00:00:00

The Lake Taupo Protection Trust’s immediate priority is to work with landowners to assess the effects of nitrogen leaching from their properties into the lake, says chairman John Kneebone.

The process involves benchmarking the amount of nitrogen lost from rural properties to enable the trust to develop an overall plan for permanently removing 20 per cent of nitrogen from the catchment.

“The first steps will provide farmers with certainty as to their nitrogen allowances. With that knowledge, they will be able to plan their future on-farm activities and ways of farming profitably within the nitrogen cap,” Mr Kneebone said.

New rules adopted yesterday by Environment Waikato cap the amount of nitrogen leaching from rural and urban properties into Lake Taupo.

The changes make pastoral farming in the Lake Taupo catchment a controlled activity under the Resource Management Act. Rural land owners now need a resource consent to farm in the area.

The new rules alone, however, will not achieve the required reduction in the amount of nitrogen leaching from farmland to ensure the lake is protected in the future. To do this, 20 per cent of the nitrogen generated by human activities on the land must be permanently removed from the catchment over the next 15 years.

Achieving this additional reduction is the job of the Lake Taupo Protection Trust.

The trust – funded by the government, Environment Waikato and Taupo District Council – is set up to administer the $81.5 million fund designed to cut nitrogen leaching from farms.

Mr Kneebone, a former Federated Farmers president and founding chairman of Landcare Research, said the pressure was on the trust to find the delicate balance between protecting the lake and minimising the social and economic effects of these actions on landowners.

“I’ve spent all my political life resisting land controls but now I will be helping implement them because the evidence of what we need to do to protect Lake Taupo is compelling,” Mr Kneebone said.

“This is New Zealand’s largest ever environmental management project and it’s critical we get it right because it impacts on the international reputations of our agricultural and tourism industries.

“We’re also keenly aware of the significant impact this will have on rural land owners and the uncertainty many are feeling.

“Before we can develop a programme of work to support land owners through this process however we need the nitrogen allocation information from Environment Waikato’s benchmarking process, so we’d like to encourage farmers to get involved in this”.

The changes to land rules, supported by the activities of the Lake Taupo Protection Trust, aim to protect Lake Taupo for the long term.

The lake’s excellent water quality has been under threat as a result of the development and intensification of rural and urban land increasing the amount of nitrogen entering the lake. This has promoted the growth of algae and phytoplankton in the lake.

About 93 per cent of the nitrogen generated by human activities around the lake comes from pastoral farming activities such as stock grazing and fertiliser use. The cap on nitrogen also applies to wastewater and storm water discharges which account for the remaining seven per cent.