Learning from others.
The core environmental threats to Lake Wanaka and Wakatipu are no different to what’s seen elsewhere in New Zealand or world-wide. The management of these threats to the lakes need to focus on the human caused effects.
For example the Lake Taupo Protection Trust was set up in February 2007 to administer the $81.5 million government fund to protect Lake Taupo's excellent water quality, which is under threat from the effects of past and current land use activities. The Trust is charged with developing a programme of work that will reduce the amount of manageable nitrogen leaching into the lake by 20 per cent. For Lake Taupo nitrogen was a key factor in water quality decline and was attributable to both farm land use losses and urban sources.
The trust uses government funds to encourage and assist land use change, to purchase land/nitrogen in the Lake Taupo catchment and to fund any other initiatives that assist the land owner to reduce the nitrogen impact of their activities on the Lake. The Trust reports to the Government (MfE), Ngati Tuwharetoa, the Taupo District Council, and Waikato Regional Council.
Outcome: Community projects need a test of cohesive effort. The Touchstone Project is about doing, learning, seeing, touching and communicating.
What’s different about Lake Wanaka and Wakatipu?
In short, nothing but time. Lake Taupo is an example of a lake clean-up project. Hugely costly to community and country. All actions happened after the effect was seen and as such have been costlier to remedy. The Lake Wanaka and Wakatipu communities can learn from that. Both lakes are at a stage where their water quality is still poorly understood and more projects understanding the drivers of contamination will not only advance community understanding, but help any water quality issues decline.
The key driver of the Touchstone Project is to future proof the Wanaka and Queenstown lake environments from any degradation that can be prevented now and to any degradation from events in the past which is yet to truly manifest in the Lakes.
While the Otago Regional Council have placed water quality policies in legislation; it is only action by the people on the ground that implement these policies and in turn maintain or improve water quality. To date Otago Regional Council have no published implementation plan or showed a great deal of action with community.
As a result of national and local legislation, but more so community interest, there is a huge opportunity to provide an increased focus on the desires of the community whom live by the lakes to manage their lakes. The key to this is to understand what the local values are and what they see as the well-being of the Lakes.
The key focus of Touchstone is to not be complacent and let these lakes decline without initiating practical environmental action. By engaging community on their concerns and validating peoples “gut feeling” we can establish a community led managment plan for the future of the lakes.
Once momentum is established in Wanaka and the local lakes community understands how they can influence the future of their lake, more effort can be applied to gaining funding streams and looking to other lakes projects. There are many different collaborative engagement models, but those that succeed invest ownership in the community. Therefore few are similar in process as every community is different. We are sure Lake Wakatipu, Te Anau, and larger Canterbury Lakes could use an approach like Touchstone.