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Nanaia Mahuta: Lake Okaro Wetlands Opening

Lake Okaro Wetlands Opening

Thank you very much for inviting me here today to join in the celebrations for the opening of this magnificent wetland.

---------------------------------

Delivered by Associate Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta

Kia ora tätou
Te Arawa waka, Te Arawa tangata
Kei te mihi, kei te mihi, kei te mihi
E ngä mana, e nga reo
Tënä koutou, tënä koutou
Kia ora tätou katoa

Good morning everyone. Thank you very much for inviting me here today to join in the celebrations for the opening of this magnificent wetland. Greetings to Mr John Cronin, chairman of Environment Bay of Plenty, Mr Kevin Winters, mayor of Rotorua District Council, Mr Anaru Rangiheuea, Chairman of the Te Arawa Mäori Trust Board, Mr Paul Dell who is the Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Programme Coordinator, and to all of you here today.

It is a pleasure and an honour to be here this morning at Lake Okaro to take part in the official opening of this wetland. It is also very appropriate that today's event coincides with World Wetlands Day, celebrated yesterday, which marks the date of the signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971. This intergovernmental treaty provides a basis for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands across the globe. World Wetlands Day has been celebrated since 1997 and provides opportunities for government agencies, organisations, community groups and individuals to raise public awareness of the values and benefits of wetlands, and to highlight the need for prudent management of the world's wetlands.

As we have already heard this morning, the opening of the Lake Okaro wetland is a significant occasion, resulting from a lot of hard work, and culminating in the construction of this wetland to improve water quality in the lake, which all users will benefit from.

Of course, it could not have been made possible without the dedication and hard work of all of the people and organisations involved - including Environment Bay of Plenty, the Rotorua District Council, and the Te Arawa Mäori Trust Board - representatives of which make up the Rotorua Lakes Strategy Joint Committee - of course, landowners Shane and June Birchall, consultants and contractors, members of the community and local iwi, and everyone else who had a role to play in the Lake Okaro Wetland development.

As someone who lives near the wonderful Lake Taupo, I understand and deeply appreciate the value that lakes have to offer to their communities - from the water and stunning beauty of lakes and surrounding land, to the special cultural and spiritual values they offer. Positive action needs to be taken now to ensure that lakes, in addition to other natural resources, can be enjoyed by us today and by future generations.

The development of the wetland that you see before you today is a significant step in this direction, and reflects the importance that local government and the community place on preserving and enhancing each lake's natural qualities and values. In addition to improving the quality of Lake Okaro's water, we are preserving and protecting an important habitat for native fish, water fowl and plants. We are also maintaining the area's natural beauty, and ensuring that an important recreational facility is protected and made as safe as possible, for the enjoyment of a wide range of users.

Central government contribution/involvement

Central government has made significant contributions towards the conservation and improvement of lakes throughout the country.

Central government is contributing to several initiatives currently underway to address lake water quality issues in the Rotorua area. These initiatives are:

- Funding of $4 million towards short-term remedial works for the proposed Ohau Channel diversion structure in relation to Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotorua;

- Funding of over $600,000 for land user initiatives through the Ministry for the Environment's Sustainable Management Fund, which aims to support the community, iwi and local government in a range of environmental initiatives, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's Sustainable Farming Fund, which supports projects that will contribute to improving environmental (and financial) performance of rural communities;

- Funding of $3.2 million for sewerage upgrades in the Rotorua area through the Sanitary Works Subsidy Scheme administered by the Ministry of Health; and

- Funding a $10 million research programme, over 10 years, to improve water quality in the Rotorua Lakes through the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.
The government is very much committed to continuing to work with the local councils and iwi to develop medium and longer term plans to address the water quality problems in the Rotorua lakes. The problems facing the Rotorua lakes are complex and there is no single or simple solution. Finding solutions to the problems will rely on a good partnership between central and local government and the Rotorua community.

Partnership

There is another partnership that I as Minister of Local Government, consider of great importance, and which the Lake Okaro Wetland project has shown me the fruits of. This is local authorities working together in partnership, and together with local iwi, communities and private individuals, to achieve such a significant goal.

Now, under the Local Government Act 2002, local authorities must, among other things, act in accordance with a number of principles. One of them, which I think is extremely important to highlight on this occasion, is that councils should collaborate and co-operate with each other and other bodies to promote and achieve community well-being. And we can see an impressive example of the positive results of this commitment to working together today.

Environment Bay of Plenty and the Rotorua District Council have banded together to protect and enhance the environmental and cultural qualities of Lake Okaro by developing one of the largest manmade freshwater wetlands in the Bay of Plenty region.

I find it encouraging that these councils, together with the Te Arawa Mäori Trust Board, have worked together to oversee and take part in the development of the Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Programme - the aim of which is to essentially protect, and in some cases improve, the water quality of all of the Rotorua lakes, including this one.

The two councils have worked collaboratively on this project and have combined their knowledge and perspectives to work out what actions were needed to improve the water quality of the picturesque Lake Okaro, and how best to achieve the results we see here today.

Iwi, community and interest groups have all taken part in discussing, and debating options for improving the water quality of Lake Okaro. The Lake Okaro Action Plan, of which the construction of the wetland is one of the main actions, is all the more robust for having this invaluable community and iwi involvement. I understand that action plans for five of the Rotorua lakes are in various stages of development, and there are more to come!

On a final note, I think that recognition must also be made of two individual members of the Lake Okaro community who - Shane and June Birchall. Without the extremely generous donation of over two hectares of private land from these two people, and their contribution throughout the development of the wetland, it may never have happened - thank you Shane and June.

Conclusion

To conclude ladies and gentlemen, I believe that the creation of this fantastic new wetland has highlighted the strengths of the various partnerships between local government, iwi and communities. I expect that all sections of the Lake Okaro community, people across the wider region, and indeed New Zealand, will benefit from this development and from the example it sets.

Please join with me today in celebrating the official opening of the Lake Okaro Wetland - It's a day to celebrate working together to protect and improve our lakes, and to recognise and applaud all of the hard work and dedication of every single person and organisation involved in making this project a success. Congratulations again to all of you.

Nö reira, tënä koutou, tënä koutou
Kia ora tätou katoa


ENDS

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