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Published: 2000-10-25 00:00:00

Taupo’s rural and urban residents both want a clean, clear lake – but they’re worried about how it can be achieved and what the changes may cost.

That was the feeling of two packed public meetings held in Taupo and Tokaanu this week to discuss Environment Waikato’s issues and options proposals to protect the lake’s water quality.

The Council says Lake Taupo’s water is starting to decline because of the way surrounding land is being used. Increasingly intensive pastoral farming and urban development is raising the amount of nitrogen entering the water and leading to the growth of algae and reducing clarity. It has released a discussion paper outlining four options, ranging from doing nothing and allowing the lake to deteriorate over time, to strict controls on nitrogen producing activities and reducing stock numbers.

About 120 people turned out to the Taupo meeting and 40 attended in Tokaanu. Both meetings were agreed on the need to protect the lake’s quality, but farming representatives voiced strong concern about what controls would mean for their livelihood and the future of farming in the area. They also questioned the reliability of the scientific information available.

Farmers felt they were being “picked on”, while increasing urban development was ignored. However Environment Waikato scientist Bill Vant said a doubling of human population would only increase nitrogen from sewage to two percent of the total, while intensification of animal farming by 40 percent could increase nitrogen input by at least 53 percent.

Federated Farmers representative Gifford McFadden said farmers had bought their land in good faith and all the proposed options restricted their property rights. A fund of $240 million would be needed to convert existing farms into forestry, and Federated Farmers intended to stand behind local farmers.

Farmers felt they were a small targeted group, which would be walked over by sheer numbers when decisions were being made because they were outnumbered. They were particularly vocal because they were having to dig the deepest into their pockets and, while others may face increased costs, they did not face losing equity.

One town resident said the aim should be to get the lake as clean as possible, taking into account farming needs and practical considerations. The town’s economy depended upon keeping the lake clean. One resident said the lake was a cash cow for the area, and $110 million was generated from the fishery alone. The issue was not one of “townies against farmers” as everyone was concerned about the lake.

“I don’t think $240 million is too much to pay. We’d like to continue to do what we’re doing in Taupo too.”

The meetings wanted to know where money was to come from for any necessary changes, and said the government needed to contribute. The lake was a national icon and should receive assistance from the rest of New Zealand.

Environment Waikato is gathering more scientific information to present to future meetings, and is planning to begin a variation to its Regional Plan to cover the Taupo area by next September.