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Clark: Restoration Project for Rotorua Lakes

Embargoed until 11.15 am
Wednesday 26 March 2008

Rt Hon Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Announcement of Major Government Funding for Restoration Project for Rotorua Lakes

Haumaitawhiti Marae
Otaramarae, Okere Falls

11.15 am

Wednesday 26 March 2008

I have come today with three government ministers to honour our commitment to Te Arawa to build a relationship based on mutual trust and co-operation, and to honour our undertaking with the three parties to the Rotorua Lakes Strategy Group to work together to maintain and improve the quality of the Rotorua lakes.

In recent years New Zealanders have become acutely aware of the need to act on the state of our freshwater resource. Most recently, the report on the state of the New Zealand environment, issued earlier this year, warned that many of our water resources are in decline.

The Rotorua lakes are a dramatic example of the problem we face. All the Rotorua lakes are either degraded or at risk environmentally. Already several of the lakes suffer from algal blooms which restrict their recreational use.

The Rotorua lakes are enormously important to New Zealand. They have major significance for Te Arawa, and huge economic and social importance for us all.

Rotorua is acknowledged as one of the richest jewels in our tourism crown. It has attracted international visitors since the nineteenth century. They and domestic visitors too come because Rotorua is a strong centre of Maori culture and because of its awesome natural heritage, including the iconic lakes. It is vital that both the cultural and natural heritage of Rotorua is sustained.

Since 1998, the Rotorua Lakes Strategy Group, comprised of Te Arawa, Rotorua District Council, and Environment Bay of Plenty, has been committed to a plan of action to protect and restore the lakes. The actions needed range from improved reticulation of sewage, interception and treatment of nutrient inflows to the lakes, and changes in land use to reduce nutrient leaching.

In April last year our Labour-led Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rotorua Lakes Strategy Group. This Memorandum of Understanding established a formal working relationship with the objective of maintaining and improving the water quality of the lakes.

Our government’s decision to sign the Memorandum of Understanding was an acknowledgement that tackling the problems of Rotorua’s iconic lakes is a national as well as a local priority.

The restoration plan for the lakes is ambitious – and it needs to be. The total cost of the programme put forward by the councils to address the water quality of four priority lakes is $144.2 million. Those lakes are : Rotorua, Rotoiti, Okareka, and Rotoehu.

The protection and restoration action programme includes measures to address the different sources of nutrients entering those four priority lakes. The key components are :

- Construction or extension of sewerage works to pick up waste from un-sewered lakeside communities around Lakes Rotorua, Rotoiti, and Okareka.

- Treatment or diversion of nutrient-rich streams flowing into Lakes Rotorua and Rotoehu.

- Capping lake sediments to lock up nutrients coming up from the beds of Lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti.

- Construction of wetlands, and land management changes to reduce the nutrients coming in from surrounding land.

- Harvesting and disposal of weeds from Lake Rotoehu.

Long term solutions will need to come from robust science and innovation in water and land management. Projects to cap the sediments of large lakes like Rotorua and Rotoiti are technically complex. We have the opportunity here to put New Zealand’s environmental sciences and technologies on show – and to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability.

The local community has signalled its willingness to make major contributions to the cost of restoration. Yet a project of this scale is clearly beyond the ability of the councils alone to fund without excessive burden on their ratepayers. Nor should they be expected to do so when these lakes in our nation’s tourism heartland matter to us all.

I have come today to announce that our government will be a major funding partner in the project to restore the lakes. We have committed $72.1 million over ten years to see the Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Programme implemented. This is fifty per cent of the total cost. Our commitment ensures that the job can be properly done and that working together we can secure these lakes for future generations to enjoy.

The other fifty per cent of the cost will be funded by the Rotorua District Council and Environment Bay of Plenty, both of which have committed to this funding in their Long Term Community Consultation Plans.

Already there has been action taken at the local and regional levels to protect and restore Rotorua’s lakes. It includes :

- Te Arawa Lakes Trust’s engagement with iwi, hapu and Maori land owners, and its support for restoration initiatives.

- Works undertaken in 2006 to improve the sewage reticulation in Mourea and Okawa Bay. This has already resulted in a rapid and obvious improvement to the quality of water in Okawa Bay.

- The Rotorua District Council’s and Environment Bay of Plenty’s work on addressing lake water quality issues through overall improvement to sewerage and stormwater infrastructure, managing land use intensification and on-site effluent treatment, community engagement and education programmes, and investigations and monitoring.

- The farming community has been evaluating and implementing improved land use practices.

- Scientists have been studying the lakes and their catchments and developing a fuller understanding of the problems and the potential solutions; and

- Urban, lakeside, and other communities, groups, and individuals in the area have contributed to streamside management programmes, improved on-site effluent treatment systems, and a wide range of environmental programmes.

It is important that these initiatives continue, as it is through action at every level that we will make a real difference to these lakes. But the action and results to date give us all confidence that the ambitious project the government is committing to today will succeed.

The decline in the quality of the Rotorua lakes has occurred over a long period of time. That means that the solutions will need to be long term and enduring.

The contribution that I have announced today reflects the government’s commitment to join with Te Arawa, the Rotorua District Council, and Environment Bay of Plenty to put in place a long term solution for protecting and restoring the Rotorua lakes.

I acknowledge the work of this partnership in developing a programme for the preservation and restoration of the Rotorua lakes. Thank you.


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