The people and agencies involved in restoring the Rotorua Lakes to full health are doing a superb job, says Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Morgan Williams. However, they need to cast their net more widely to involve the community as much as possible if their work is to maintain momentum.
Restoring the Lakes will take decades rather than years, because the nitrogen in the soils surrounding the Lakes can take more than 60 years to seep its way through surface and groundwaters. Dr Williams says this long process means the Lakes' guardians will need to ensure the institutional framework is robust and enduring.
"We are far from seeing the worst effects yet, so long-term structures to protect the lakes must be in place to see the job through."
He was commenting on a recommendation in Restoring the Rotorua Lakes: The ultimate endurance challenge, a PCE report released on 3 April. The report examines concerns about the Lakes' declining water quality that members of the Rotorua community had raised with the Commissioner. It contains two recommendations and outlines other issues that may be investigated further.
The second recommendation is to develop a 'sustainability report card' that would produce regular news on water quality, land use patterns, restoration activity, progress and community satisfaction. This recommendation too aims at maintaining commitment over the long haul.
Water quality in the Rotorua Lakes has been declining for 30 to 40 years, with toxic blue-green algal blooms becoming a serious problem in some lakes. However, Dr Williams praised restoration work in the past two to three years as one of New Zealand's "leading initiatives".