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Published: 2015-07-15 00:00:00

The Lake Taupō Protection Trust - along with its central and local government funders, and Ngāti Tūwharetoa - is proudly announcing the achievement of agreements to meet the target 170 tonne a year reduction in the amount of nitrogen entering the lake.

“This is a very major milestone in efforts to protect Lake Taupō, which is an iconic national treasure and major tourism asset,” said trust chairman Clayton Stent.

“All involved are extremely pleased with what has been achieved. Getting the nitrogen leaching load down is crucial to ensuring the lake’s future health. It’s a great example of what can be done through tight co-operation between central and local government, iwi and others,” said Mr Stent.

The reduction - achieved by the trust entering into financial arrangements to change local land use – hits the goal of securing a future 20 per cent reduction in the load of nitrogen leaching into the lake through the ground. Stock urine is a main source of the nutrient.

Today’s announcement follows the recent signing of a contract for the final bit part of land use change needed. The way the reductions are funded means actual on-the-the ground arrangements for the 170 tonnes a year reduction will be finalised by 2018.

The changes – involving the purchasing of land and land use changes via a $79.2 million fund – won’t result in a quick 170 tonnes a year reduction. That’s because the way nitrogen leaches into the lake over time means there will be a long lag of decades before the reductions will take complete effect, Mr Stent said.

“But this is a project about leaving behind a cleaner legacy for future generations and protecting this important national taonga. We needed to act when we did.”

Waikato Regional Council chairperson Paula Southgate said the council was proud of the leading edge policy and funding it had provided for the project. “The council’s Variation 5 policy, which has facilitated the nitrogen reduction, has been internationally recognised and has required a major effort from us all to implement. Ratepayers’ contributions have been very important in recognising the need to protect this regional treasure. I’m also very grateful to our central and local government partners, Ngāti Tūwharetoa and local landowners for their major contributions.”

Taupō mayor David Trewavas said: “This fantastic milestone marks a major achievement for the community of the Taupō district. There has been a substantial investment from both urban and rural parts of the community and a fundamental shift in the way we use land and treat wastewater discharges. I am very proud of the way our community has pulled together to protect our greatest taonga.”

Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board chair John Bishara said: “We all need to stay vigilant to ensure protection of our ways is maintained to ensure future generations are able to enjoy this very special water body, Lake Taupō. We are very pleased to celebrate this very important milestone in partnership with our local communities.”

Background material:

In the late 1990s, regional council monitoring showed that water quality in Lake Taupō was deteriorating and losing the clarity it was famed for. Nitrogen emissions, which stimulate algal growth, were identified as the cause and farming was established as the major source of manageable nitrogen emissions. The regional council introduced a variety of measures under its Variation 5 policy, including caps on nitrogen emissions from farms and limits on wastewater discharges. The council also developed a world-leading scheme allowing the trading of rights to emit nitrogen. All farms within the Taupō catchment now have resource consents to operate within the cap placed upon them. But to just maintain water quality, a total 20 per cent reduction in the amount of nitrogen coming from farmland and urban areas was needed to restore 2001 levels of water quality and clarity by 2080.

So to help build on this cap scheme, the Lake Taupō Protection Trust was set up in February 2007 to administer the eventual $79.2 million fund to protect Lake Taupo's excellent water quality. Trust funding comes from the Ministry for the Environment (45 per cent), Waikato Regional Council ratepayers outside Taupo (33 per cent) and Taupō District Council ratepayers, including farmers and foresters (22 per cent). Funds have been used to purchase land use changes in the catchment, either through land purchases or agreements to alter activities carried out on various properties. It is these arrangements that have secured the target 170 tonnes a year reduction for the future.

Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board is the owner of Lake Taupō and has provided its support for the project from the beginning. Ngati Tūwharetoa landowners are the largest private sector landowner in the catchment and their involvement and participation is critical to achieving the nitrogen reduction targets and continued protection of all waterways in this catchment.

Despite reaching its goal of entering contracts to cut nitrogen leaching by 170 tonnes a year, the trust will likely continue to operate for some years to finalise various arrangements related to the reduction. A monitoring programme will also be established to measure future progress with nitrogen discharge reductions into the lake.

The ongoing success of the Lake Taupō project will involve ensuring existing land users stay within their existing resource consent or permitted activity conditions. The regional council has an ongoing role to check compliance of land users with the Variation 5 rules, ensure land owners understand their responsibilities, and to ensure robust processes are in place for trading nitrogen discharge allowances. The project partners have signed a monitoring agreement on how this sort of work will be done.

Media contacts:

Lake Taupō Protection Trust: Graeme Fleming – 021 846 996

Waikato Regional Council: Stephen Ward – 021 756 310

Taupō District Council: Lisa Nairne – 027 839 8410

Tūwharetoa Māori Trust Board: Topia Rameka - 021 588 152