Find­ing a way for­ward

Le­gal pro­cesses have sought to stop pol­lu­tion get­ting into Lake Horowhenua

Horowhenua Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE -

Part two of a two-part series about Lake Horowhenua by Alexan­der Robert­son.

To see the story in its en­tirety, and Alexan­der’s doc­u­men­tary on the lake, visit www.horowhen­u­achron­i­

Lake Horowhenua waits for help. Its own­ers wait for the re­sults of a le­gal process, after its trust re­cently reached an im­passe with chal­lenges and dis­agree­ment over who owns it.

The lake has been the sub­ject of other ex­ten­sive le­gal ac­tion over the years around the best course of ac­tion to im­prove it.

Hori­zons was granted con­sents to use a sed­i­ment trap, fish pass and weed har­vester in 2015. Ap­peals by a group of trusts to the En­vi­ron­ment and High Courts failed.

In a sep­a­rate case in 2016, the En­vi­ron­ment Court made dec­la­ra­tions on the way that Hori­zons needed to con­sider ap­pli­ca­tions for in­ten­sive land use con­sents.

The re­sult was that mar­ket grow­ers could not ap­ply for land use con­sents un­less they met ni­tro­gen leach­ing num­bers in the coun­cil’s One Plan.

But the Hori­zons strat­egy and reg­u­la­tion group man­ager, Dr Nic Peet, says it is “largely im­pos­si­ble” for grow­ers to meet the ni­tro­gen leach­ing num­bers and con­tinue to run vi­able hor­ti­cul­ture op­er­a­tions.

Some mar­ket grow­ers are now oper­at­ing with­out land use con­sents.

The coun­cil has be­gun a twostage process of plan change. The first is un­der way and the sec­ond will go through a pub­lic process next year.

“In the mean­time, Hori­zons con­tin­ues to work with grow­ers to im­prove en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tice,” Peet says. “Not hav­ing the con­sents is not a bar­rier to on­go­ing im­prove­ment.”

Lo­gan Brown is the fresh­wa­ter and part­ner­ships man­ager for the coun­cil and the man re­spon­si­ble for the lake’s sed­i­ment trap.

“There is a whole lot of work be­ing done up-stream with farm­ers to re­duce the amount of sed­i­ment loss that comes from land,” he says.

“This [sed­i­ment trap] can be con­sid­ered as a kind of end pol­ish­ing type of thing.”

The re­gional coun­cil wanted to use a weed har­vester and use the weed, rich in ni­trates and phos­phates ab­sorbed from the run-off into the lake, at nearby farms. But the har­vester was stopped in its tracks by lo­cals who ob­jected.

“It is one we have been try­ing to get in place for the last two to three years and have had le­gal chal­lenges,” Brown says.

“When the weed har­vest­ing is in place, it breaks a cy­cle that oc­curs within the lake. If we can do that weed har­vest­ing, that toxic weed al­gae won’t be there.”

Tree-plant­ing is an­other tool, but Brown knows the long-term so­lu­tion is to stop pol­lu­tion get­ting into the lake in the first place.

Ul­ti­mately, peo­ple could do more, he says, but it comes down to costs, bud­gets and reg­u­la­tions.

In the mean­time, he urges crit­ics to be pa­tient and get in­volved.

“It is quite easy to be crit­i­cal and not be in­volved in the pro­cesses,” says Brown. “We have held, and still hold, nu­mer­ous com­mu­nity plant­ing days for peo­ple to get in­volved.

“Those peo­ple who are quite crit­i­cal of us, I’m yet to see one of them at those plant­ing days.”

While Hori­zons sorts out the bu­reau­cratic mess, many farm­ers in the sen­si­tive catch­ment zone are in limbo. They need as­sur­ances there is a long-term fu­ture in the re­gion be­fore in­vest­ing in more an­tipol­lu­tion schemes.

With no end to the de­lays and com­pli­ca­tions, some res­i­dents led by Chris­tine Mo­ri­arty lost pa­tience with Hori­zons and wrote a let­ter to En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter David Parker.

“The let­ter is ask­ing for the Min­is­ter to re­move the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the re­gional coun­cil and put in a com­mis­sioner,” Mo­ri­arty says.

Many res­i­dents blame the mar­ket gar­den in­dus­try, which brings in more than $100m to the re­gion and has been a pri­mary source of em­ploy­ment for a cen­tury.

Wood­haven Gar­dens is the big­gest mar­ket gar­dener in Horowhenua, em­ploy­ing up to 250 peo­ple. The busi­ness has al­ready made changes in­clud­ing re­tir­ing land, es­tab­lish­ing buf­fer zones and adding sed­i­ment traps through­out the farm.

“Is it in a place we’d like it to be? No.” says Jay Clarke, one of the own­ers. “Do we see a need for im­prove­ment? Yes.”

But Clarke points to the sen­si­tive ge­og­ra­phy of the lake catch­ment.

“You have a lot of land area drain­ing into wa­ter­ways that don’t have a high level of flow. And there­fore the con­cen­tra­tions of pol­lu­tion can go up quite high.

“That’s very im­por­tant for peo­ple to un­der­stand,” Clarke says.

“We ac­knowl­edge we have an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact and we con­trib­ute to the poor qual­ity that we see in the Arawhata Stream.”

Dr Mike Joy is an out­spo­ken critic of in­ten­sive farm­ing and its ef­fect on wa­ter­ways.

“It is just van­dal­ism,” he says. “There’s just hun­dreds of hectares of in­ten­sive hor­ti­cul­ture, mono­cul­tures, worked up pad­docks just con­stantly be­ing ploughed up and turned over, heaps and heaps of nu­tri­ents and pes­ti­cides, very in­dus­trial-scale farm­ing hap­pen­ing around here.

“The ef­fects of that is, when there’s a big rain­fall event, all the sed­i­ment washes off into the drains. The sed­i­ment’s rich in phos­pho­rous.

“You’ve got ni­tro­gen be­ing put on to the land — it’s flow­ing down through here, plus those pes­ti­cides and things. The whole lot mak­ing its way into this lake.” In the case of Lake Horowhenua, Joy also points to stormwa­ter from nearby Levin.

“If any dis­trict or city coun­cil thinks it’s ac­cept­able to have stormwa­ter run straight off into a body of wa­ter, then they are to­tally fail­ing in their role,” he said.

But he didn’t sim­ply blame the politi­cians.

“If they start fix­ing th­ese things up and treat­ing them prop­erly, then there’s a lot of money in­volved and then it’s go­ing to be rates in­creases and they’ll get voted out.

“The sys­tem we have, once again, en­cour­ages . . . liv­ing for now and leav­ing the prob­lem for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

The stormwa­ter runoff in ques­tion is un­der the con­trol of Horowhenua Dis­trict Coun­cil, where new in­fra­struc­ture man­ager An­drew Grant has been in the job for just two weeks.

“There is a prob­lem and the coun­cil has ac­knowl­edged it,” Grant says.

“We have al­lo­cated a large amount of money and the coun­cil has taken it on board.”

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter David Parker says it is not a Govern­ment is­sue but he would make an ex­cep­tion in this in­stance.

“There’s been a bit of a stale­mate,” Parker says.

“I asked the coun­cil and some of the crit­ics of the coun­cil to meet in my of­fice re­cently, to try and bro­ker a way for­ward so that we re­solve the un­der­ly­ing is­sues.”

He has also ap­pointed a plan­ner and a lawyer to as­sist Hori­zons.

“It is their duty to do their job. Not all of th­ese de­ci­sions can be taken at cen­tral govern­ment level, th­ese are de­volved coun­cils and it is their re­spon­si­bil­ity to put things right.”


An­drew Grant, in­fra­struc­ture man­ager at Horowhenua Dis­trict Coun­cil, says the coun­cil has in­vested sig­nif­i­cant amounts of money try­ing to fix Lake Horowhenua.


Horowhenua res­i­dent Chris­tine Mo­ri­arty says a sed­i­ment trap sys­tem is tak­ing fo­cus away from the source of the lake con­tam­i­na­tion.


Hori­zons Re­gional Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael McCart­ney, with Fresh­wa­ter sci­en­tist Lo­gan Brown.

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