Finding a way forward
Legal processes have sought to stop pollution getting into Lake Horowhenua
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.horowhenuachronicle.co.nz
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.