‘Keep your nose out’
Horizons chairman has a blast at his own council
Horizons chairman Bruce Gordon has blasted his own council, saying it needs to “keep their nose out” of the lake he manages after it issued swim warnings due to high levels of algae.
Gordon, who leads the regional council, said warning signs were keeping people away from Dudding Lake, a popular visitor spot between Whanganui and Bulls.
And he added Horizons didn’t “contribute anything except for putting out warnings that are doing a lot of damage”.
He hit out after regional council water spokesman Barry Gilliland this week again issued a warning that the blue green algae density in the lake exceeded recreational guidelines.
“Warning signage was posted last week and needs to remain,” said Gilliland. “It is best to stay away until this bloom burns itself out.”
Meanwhile, the children of Dudding Lake caretaker Quentin Salepau have suffered a red, stinging rash that lasted two days after swimming in the lake three weeks ago — before warning signs were put up.
But Gordon said the council’s message was making people cancel their bookings.
He is both the operations manager for Dudding Lake Motor Camp and Picnic Park, near Marton, and the chairman of the regional council charged with maintaining and monitoring the water there.
But he said he saw no conflict of interest between his two roles.
Gilliland later clarified he meant to tell people to stay out of the water, not out of the whole reserve.
However, Salepau said the lake was the reserve’s main drawcard, and the algal bloom was putting off campers.
“Ever since the notices have been up no one has been here except a jetboat,” he said. “Last weekend it was dead.”
It’s been a struggle to keep the facility going and money from campers was needed. Gordon said messages from the council he chairs have been a problem.
“We would like Horizons to keep their nose out of the place, to be quite honest,” he said.
“They don’t contribute anything except for putting out warnings that are doing a lot of damage.”
Horizons had assumed responsibility without being asked, Gordon said, and it didn’t monitor other coastal lakes as closely.
“They stick their nose in sometimes where they’re not wanted.”
It was too cold to swim at the moment, he said, and waterskiers in wetsuits would not be harmed by the algae. People just needed to avoid their skin contacting the shallow water around the lake edge.
Yesterday Horizons staff were testing the water again, and a close look showed it was full of tiny particles. Gordon said the lake often has algal blooms early in the season, which die down later.
Algal blooms happen when water is warm and has plenty of nutrients — such as nitrogen and phosphorous from farming run-off. Dudding Lake has farmland, including some crops, on one side and forestry on the other.
It is Horizons’ job to set rules that limit nutrient run-off, and last year two environmental groups took it to court for failing to regulate. The council lost the case, and it is now seeking to change the maximum nitrogen leaching figures allowed by its One Plan.
Dudding Lake has a few freshwater mussels (kakahi), and more may be added to filter the water.
Gordon said non-breeding carp could also be introduced to eat lake weed, and stock still have access at times when the water is high.
He doesn’t doubt the results Horizons scientists come up with, but says Rangit¯ıkei District Council’s Blair Jamieson has better solutions to the algae problem.
“I’m going to tell Michael [McCartney, Horizons chief executive], let’s just let Rangit¯ıkei do it.”
The Chronicle has come across a few instances of a mayor or council leader attempting to defend their staff even when they have stuffed up.
But it is rare indeed to find one attacking council staff for doing their job.
That seems to be the unhappy position Horizons Regional Council chairman Bruce Gordon finds himself in this week.
The monitoring of water quality is an important part of the work of our regional council and, not for the first time, the blight of algal bloom has caused staff to warn the public about taking a dip in Dudding Lake.
Public health and safety are priorities, and so the “Don’t swim” signs have been erected around the lake which lies between Whanganui and Bulls, near Marton, and is a regular stop for tourists.
The staff appear to have acted correctly — algal bloom can cause painful rashes on swimmers, as the children of the lake’s caretaker found out.
The warnings are undoubtedly going to keep people away from the lake — that is their intention — and that has upset Gordon who is also the operations manager for the nearby motor camp.
His concern at the lack of visitors has prompted him to tell his staff to “keep their noses out”,
The staff appear
to have acted correctly — algal bloom can cause painful rashes on
and looks to have put him at odds with his own council’s policy.
It should be pointed out there are no problems with the camp or surrounding area; it is just the water that poses a danger.
It has been suggested there is a conflict of interest for the Horizons chairman with his roles as local authority leader and motor camp manager, but he does not see it that way.
We must hope the algae quickly dissipates, the signs come down and all can fully enjoy the lake’s attractions this summer.
Dudding Lake looks serene but its blue green algae level is twice the maximum recommended for swimming.
Signs warning against swimming have been up at Dudding Lake for two weeks, while in the background regional council staff take water samples.
“Don’t swim” signs have gone up at Dudding Lake.