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Published: 2015-03-20 00:00:00

Waikato Regional Council says it is closely involved in a wide range of policies, projects and programmes to address water quality issues at Lake Karapiro and other lakes and waterways.

These include:

  • the already implemented Variation 5 and Variation 6 policies to, respectively, help protect Lake Taupo and manage water use
  • the Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora: He Rautaki Whakapaipai project
  • detailed work to look at forestry-to-farming conversions in the Upper Waikato River catchment
  • the Waipa Catchment Plan and a range of other programmes to work with landowners to help protect waterways.

The council’s comment follows a public meeting at Cambridge last night to discuss recent water quality issues at Lake Karapiro, including algal blooms over summer.

Science and strategy director Tracey May, who attended the meeting, said the council, iwi partners and other stakeholders were doing a thorough job of addressing water quality issues. This work included developing a regional plan change for the Waikato and Waipa rivers through Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora. A recommended plan change for the Waikato and Waipa rivers is expected to be made public early next year.

“Regarding algal blooms and other water health issues going forward, we are working through the Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora process with river iwi and others to look at all the issues and potential solutions related to the health of the hydro lakes, and the Waikato and Waipa rivers,” said Ms May.

“Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora includes the use of a Collaborative Stakeholder Group, a body which has a wide range of representatives, supported by the Technical Leaders Group of experts to ensure evidence-based decision-making. This is critical to ensuring that we fully understand the nature of the problem so that solutions are both targeted and effective.

“Both groups are independently chaired. The CSG will ultimately recommend the regional plan change to help protect these waterways. CSG members are working well together, no one is allowed to dominate proceedings and all views are taken into account carefully. The spirit of co-operation is very positive. Work to improve the health of other catchments will follow.

“So as a council we are taking a proactive approach to managing water quality issues in our region and we are keen to keep working closely with iwi, stakeholders and local communities to address the problems we’re identifying. We want to take a sound, science-based approach to sorting out the issues,” Ms May said.

On algal growth, Ms May said this occurs in the region’s lakes throughout the year, but growth is most rapid during summer, sometimes leading to blooms. Hot summers with clear skies accelerate algal growth.

A well-known alga called Ceratium was responsible for the bloom that caused unusual reddish patches of colour in the Waikato River hydro-lakes Maraetai, Arapuni and Karapiro over this summer. Algal growth was also reported at Lake Puketirini (Huntly).

Ceratium is not known to produce toxins, so does not pose a direct risk to humans and animals. However, the District Health Board advised the public to take a precautionary approach and avoid contact with water with obvious signs of reddish discolouration. Since the height of summer, Ceratium counts have declined and the council’s monitoring shows the bloom has gone from the river. Meanwhile, the regional council, Waipa District Council and Land Information NZ have started a project to tackle aquatic weeds at Karapiro.

“So we are working with a range of partners to address issues in the lakes and waterways of our region and we encourage members of the public to keep having their say on how we can improve things to address their concerns. Addressing water quality is complex, requiring a collaborative process in which all key partners and stakeholders can bring their solutions to the decision-making table. The organisers of last night’s meeting are to be congratulated on taking action to raise public awareness of the issues and join in the conversation about the way forward for water,” said Ms May.

On calls made recently for a moratorium on forestry to farming conversions to help protect water quality in the region, Ms May said that council staff established some years ago that there was no legal mechanism under Waikato’s regional plan, or via other means, for the council to impose any moratorium within a timeframe that would make any meaningful difference.

“Also, any quick unilateral change by us to the regional plan would likely circumvent the collaborative approach that we and our partners are taking to managing water quality issues through Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora,” said Ms May.

“But we’re not just waiting for the outcome of the Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora process. What we are currently in the process of doing is some more detailed work to better understand and quantify conversion-related issues, and to look at what tools we and others might have to address any identified problems. So we as a council have been and are actively examining the issue of conversions as we look to better manage water quality issues in conjunction with river iwi and a wide range of stakeholders. Also, we are working actively with a range of landowners to better protect our waterways through various programmes.”