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No shortcuts to protect peat lakes

There will be no shortcuts to protecting the Waikato’s remaining peat lakes, this week’s Environment Waikato Policy Committee heard.

The Council intends to include four new peat lake levels in its Regional Plan and will propose a variation next year which may include non-complying activity rules for dairy shed effluent discharges in catchments of peat lakes, with rules to protect established peat lake levels.

The northern Waikato Region has an abundance of freshwater ecosystems, and more than 40 lakes range in size from less than 0.01 sq km to 34.4 sq km at Lake Waikare. The ecosystems are nationally important because they are the largest remaining collection of such habitats within one area in New Zealand.

The Committee heard that the lakes are either Crown owned and administered by the Department of Conservation, or private lakes on farmland. They contain unique species of plants and animals adapted to live in acidic conditions, and are also valuable as wildlife corridors where waterfowl move around the districts in search of food and breeding habitats.

They are vulnerable to lowering water levels, changes in land use, land clearance and drainage and most have become very shallow with relatively large seasonal fluctuations and water level.

Not every peat lake in the Region would have a level set, only those that were at high risk from main drainage with important ecological values, the Committee heard. The Waipa Peat Lakes and Wetlands Accord signatories were committed to working together and working with landowners and others to protect the lakes.

Environmental Planner Bruce McAuliffe said currently, dairy shed effluent discharges to drains that in turn discharged to peat lakes was a ‘discretionary activity rule’ and staff considered it sent the wrong signal that it was acceptable to discharge to peat lakes.

Cr Barry O’Connor said the Council needed to look at the reality of the situation rather than the good intentions. Over the past 13 years the Region had lost many peat lakes and once lost they were not recoverable.

“We need to identify what we are saving here and whether we are looking for environmental values or social values. We need to identify which we can save and stop wasting Council resources on those which are beyond saving.”

Cr David Peart said there was a different peat lake picture when they were first looked at them in 1991.

“We allow people to do things that in some areas are killing the lakes. Let’s find out what we really want to save.”

Cr Andra Neeley said saving the lakes was going to be a very big task that would impact on landowners and ratepayers. The Council would have to prove the science, have consultation, work with other bodies and come to some agreement.

“There are no shortcuts here. We are looking at a mini Lake Taupo situation.”

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