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Actions drawn up to improve Lake Okareka


MEDIA RELEASE


Actions drawn up to improve Lake Okareka

For immediate release: Friday 24 October 2003
A working group given the task of improving water quality in Rotorua’s Lake Okareka has come up with a package of actions that will now be relayed to the wider community for feedback.

They include a fully reticulated sewage scheme, changes in land use, three new wetlands and the trialling of an engineering system to collect and treat water from the bottom of the lake.

Located 11 kilometres from Rotorua, Lake Okareka is a popular spot for recreational activities like fishing, water skiing, boating and bathing. While it hosts a small lakeside village, the 1600ha catchment is mostly native bush (30%) and pasture (51%).

Because it has shown warning signs of deterioration, Lake Okareka is the first of the Rotorua lakes to have a formal Action Plan drawn up for it. Set up early this year, the Action Plan working party involves both district and regional councils, the Department of Conservation, Fish and Game NZ, iwi, landowners and the community.

Its job has been to study, assess costs and recommend the best combination of actions for improving lake quality. The options focus primarily on reducing levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, as well as bacteria from septic tanks, all of which degrade water quality. Farming and septic tanks are key activities that overload the soil with nutrients, which then seep into the lake.

At a meeting on Wednesday, the working party endorsed a range of actions to reduce nitrogen load by the target of 2.3 tonnes and phosphorus by 0.07 tonnes.

It recommended that:

1. Rotorua District Council proceeds with a fully reticulated sewage scheme, allowing for additional dwellings. While expensive, this option can remove a high proportion of the nitrogen target (80%) though only 12% of the phosphorus.
2. Environment Bay of Plenty and Rotorua District council discuss with rural landowners changes in land use, including lifestyle blocks. The list of options includes converting 200ha of pasture to forest or 100ha to lifestyle bocks. Both land uses produce fewer nutrients than farming.
3. Environment Bay of Plenty establishes wetlands in three areas and continues to do riparian planting.
4. Environment Bay of Plenty trials a Hypolimnetic Discharge, which would remove water from the bottom of the lake, catching the phosphorus being released from the sediments.
5. Environment Bay of Plenty carries out on-farm nutrient assessments of all farms in the catchment to make sure farming practices minimise nutrient loss while staying economic.

The actions will now be presented to the community, says working party co-chairman Cr Neil Oppatt of Rotorua District council. “Everyone will have the opportunity for input into the final decisions,” he says.

Before making its recommendations, the working group studied a consultant’s report assessing the economic impacts of land use changes in the Rotorua lakes catchments, particularly Lake Okareka. The information will help Environment Bay of Plenty and Rotorua District Council to negotiate with landowners over changes in land use, Mr Oppatt says.

The group also received an economic report that showed farmers could be “strongly financially advantaged” if they converted parts of their properties into lifestyle blocks, Mr Oppatt says. It would have implications for the District Plan, he says.

ENDS

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