Mayor slates ORC over water quality

Jim Boult.
Jim Boult.
Queenstown Lakes’ new mayor has fired a water-quality warning shot across the Otago Regional Council’s bow.

Jim Boult, who was elected last month and owns a home overlooking Lake Hayes, has formally written to the regional council over its "lack of obvious action on lake water quality".

At a meeting with ORC chairman Stephen Woodhead last week, he raised the problem of so-called lake snow found in Lakes Wanaka, Wakatipu and, most recently, Hawea, as well as the "general condition" of Lake Hayes.

Mr Boult told the Otago Daily Times yesterday: "I take this issue very seriously and will be expecting ORC to respond accordingly."

Mr Woodhead said in an emailed statement his council took its environmental responsibilities seriously.

Water quality was measured by a range of factors, he said.

"And while the presence of lake snow is something we too are concerned about, the water quality of the big Otago lakes remains very good and we want to keep it that way."

Mr Woodhead said he accepted an invitation from Mr Boult for their councils to jointly present community meetings on lake water quality.

Although no dates were mooted as yet, he said they would need to be held before Christmas.

In September, Mr Boult was asked at an election meeting if the ORC was doing a good job with the district’s waterways. He described the present state of affairs as "bulls...".

He said the Friends of Lake Hayes, of which he is deputy chairman, had begged the regional council to improve the lake’s water quality but it was "not interested" and its fix was to erect a sign saying "A lake in transition". The Friends held their annual meeting on Saturday, which was attended by Mr Boult and two new regional councillors, Maggie Lawton and Michael Laws.

Dr Lawton, of Wanaka, who is chairwoman of the ORC’s technical committee, said there was enough information about Lake Hayes to put a report together to bid for funding from local councils and government bodies.

"It’s time to do something now and get on with it."

Mr Laws urged the Friends to become more political.

The group has applied twice to the regional council for money to buy a long-term monitoring buoy — the Central Lakes Trust has promised to pay half the $75,000 — but was rejected both times.

Mr Laws said that amount was "pathetic" for an organisation with more than $50 million in reserves and no debt.

University of Otago limnologist Marc Schallenberg said on Saturday it appeared Lake Hayes was going through  a self-cleaning process, and restoration approaches aimed at reducing phosphorus in the lake bed sediment would not be of huge benefit.

He pointed to the potential nutrient load coming from Mill Creek  as being more crucial.

Friends chairman Kerry Dunlop said he hoped the "disconnect" with the ORC could now be changed, especially with the election of Dr Lawton and Cr Laws.

The Friends intended to apply for funding through the Government’s freshwater improvement fund, he said.

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