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Published: 2007-12-20 00:00:00

Environment Waikato is following up concerns that some farms in the Lake Taupo catchment are beefing up stock numbers in defiance of new land use rules that aim to cap the amount of nitrogen polluting Lake Taupo.

Since July, farmers have been required to obtain resource consents that cap the amount of nitrogen leaching from their farming activities.

Ninety three per cent of the manageable nitrogen load in the catchment comes from farming, with the biggest source being from livestock.

Land owners are being given nitrogen discharge allowances, benchmarked on historical land use patterns from 2001-2005.

But Environment Waikato’s Jan Hania who is managing the introduction of these new rules in the area, said concerns have been raised that thousands of extra dairy cows were brought into the Taupo catchment over winter, well in excess of the numbers being farmed during the 2001–2005 benchmarking period.

“The increase in winter stocking numbers presents the greatest risk of increased nitrogen leaching into the lake,” he said.

“It’s just not a fair go that some farmers increased their stock numbers over winter and continue to carry extra cows.

“We are investigating land owners who are allegedly not complying with the rules and they could face enforcement action.”

The new rules to protect the water quality of Lake Taupo were proposed in a Variation to the Waikato Regional Plan in July 2005 and came into force in July this year. Although some aspects of the Variation have been appealed to the Environment Court, the rules still apply.

Mr Hania said it was important farmers who were working toward gaining their resource consent knew their efforts to do the right thing were not in vain.

“It is great that a number of farmers are working through the process and developing plans to operate successfully under the nitrogen cap – we want to make it as easy as possible for them.”

Mr Hania said the Lake Taupo Protection Trust had assisted in developing booklets that have been sent to all affected farmers to explain the benchmarking process, and to let them know help and advice was available.

“We have gone to significant lengths to ensure farmers are informed about our Regional Plan changes and many farmers have been very proactive about working with us,” he said.

“At this point farmers on about 17,000 ha of land either have, or are close to having, a nitrogen discharge allowance. But the total catchment covers more than 50,000 ha so there’s still a long way to go.”

For information about benchmarking, nitrogen discharge allowances or Environment Waikato’s new rules to protect water quality in Lake Taupo, please call Jan Hania, Faith Barber or Derek Ryan at the council’s Taupo office on (07) 378 6539.