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Funding targets Lake Taupo’s water quality

Funding targets Lake Taupo’s water quality

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology has approved $1.8 million over the next 5 years to address the declining status of New Zealand’s lakes.

Scientists from the National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and the University of Otago will use the extra funds to focus on the wide range of issues currently affecting New Zealand lakes, including helping to halt the decline in Lake Taupo’s water quality. Research on Lake Taupo will dovetail with work on its catchment already announced by the Foundation, and with a recent Cabinet decision to assist in funding the prevention of further deterioration of the lake.

‘Thanks to a monitoring programme on the lake supported by Environment Waikato, and to the long-term records of NIWA scientists, we have clear evidence that the lake is showing signs of deterioration,’ said Dr Clive Howard-Williams, NIWA’s General Manager for Freshwater Research. The current state of Lake Taupo is the focus of Water Resources Update, released today by the National Centre for Water Resources.

According to Tony Petch of Environment Waikato the declining water quality in Lake Taupo is measurable and of concern to the community. In response to indications of change, the regional council has been working with the Tûwharetoa Mâori Trust Board, landowners, the Taupo District Council, scientists, and central government to develop a management proposal that meets social, economic, and cultural needs, as well as those of the environment. Dr Petch said the proposal should be available for public discussion in November this year.

‘It’s easy to detect water quality declines once they are serious, but by then remediation is far more difficult,’ said Dr Howard-Williams. ‘A bigger challenge is to halt the decline in water quality when it is still high. In order to make difficult decisions in those early stages we need to better understand the precise relationships between nutrient loads, algae, and water clarity.’ Ultimately, this ‘early intervention’ approach is likely to be cost effective in maintaining high quality inland waters, but robust science is an essential foundation.

The new work at Lake Taupo will help further clarify the causes underlying the decline in water quality, and help set and refine targets to halt or reverse the process. It will proceed in a way that allows lessons learnt at Taupo to be passed on to other catchments.

Working on Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s biggest lake, is challenging for many reasons. ‘Science on the lake is difficult, not only because of its size and weather conditions, but also because of its depth (the average depth is 100 metres), and its complex currents and circulation,’ said Dr Howard-Williams. ‘We need to use very sophisticated instruments like those we normally take to sea on our oceanographic vessels.’

The research will be done in partnership with the Tûwharetoa Mâori Trust Board and will start early in 2004. ‘Funding is very tight at present,’ said Dr Howard-Williams, ‘so we will be looking at gradually increasing this research as funds become available.’

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