Opinion | Guardians of the future

Image: Wanaka Water Project Catchment Map supplied by NIWA

From the 1950s through to the early 1970s, Lake Wanaka was being eyed up for hydro-electric development.  The 1973 Lake Wanaka Preservation Act put a stop to such plans, appointing Guardians to protect the natural state of the lake and its shoreline, and to keep a watching brief on the effects on water quality of development adjacent to the lake and in the lake’s catchment.  

Each year, the Guardians prepare a report for the Minister of Conservation.  The 2018 report is available on Upper Clutha Lake Trust’s website.

Issues highlighted in the Guardian’s 2018 report include:

  • Run-off from urban and rural growth risking lake water quality and ecosystem function

  • Serious lack of funding for evidence based lake management

  • Inadequate monitoring and assessment of the nature and extent of nutrients, pathogens, and toxic pollutants entering the lake

  • The need for more consultation with Guardians by ORC and QLDC on resource consent conditions required to avoid lake impacts from rural residential developments  

  • Deficiencies in Overseas Investment Office processes for assessing potential environmental impacts from land use changes when land in iconic lake catchments is sold to overseas owners

There are some positives too.  ORC has responded to water quality concerns and is funding research on Lake Snow, which now infests 20 South Island lakes.  ORC is also funding environmental monitoring buoys for Lake Hayes, Lake Wakatipu and Lake Wanaka. The successful Lagarosiphon control programme has significantly reduced the extent and density of the Lake Wanaka weed beds.

Given how much has changed since 1973, there is a need to better understand the long term impacts on Lake Wanaka stemming from our region’s exponential growth.  For many years, the Guardians have advocated for a Lakes and Catchments Management Plan for Lake Wanaka and other iconic South Island lakes. Development of an Integrated Catchment Management Plan (ICMP) is now one of the three workstreams of the Wanaka Water Project, funded by the Ministry for the Environment and supported by ORC, QLDC, Otago University’s Catchments Otago, Te Kākano, Sargood Bequest and the Million Metres Streams Project.

The Wanaka community has benefited enormously from the regulatory protection put in place for our lake 45 years ago.  The ICMP will be an enduring plan covering the broader catchment area, developed with input from the community and a range of stakeholders, including the Guardians.  To find out more or contribute ideas to the ICMP, please email community@uppercluthalakestrust.org.

Pictured: The area inside the red line indicates the Catchment covered by the Wanaka Water Project’s Integrated Catchment Management Plan, encompassing 4600sqkm.  Much of the catchment area is mountainous, including snow and glacier-fed waters. 


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