OPINION: Protecting Queenstown’s water and land

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Thank you to everyone who attended meetings in Queenstown and Wānaka last week to
share your knowledge and ambitions for the way our beautiful lakes and waterways in the Upper Lakes area should be managed for generations to come.

In the coming months, Otago Regional Council and Kai Tahu are hosting similar meetings all around Otago as we develop a new land and water regional plan — a crucial policy document for Otago that will set the management of freshwater and land in our region.

Your input is essential to what goes into this plan, and we’re grateful for your local thoughts, advice, experience and knowledge.

To develop this plan, we’re looking at different areas within Otago one by one.

This ensures that as well as having some guidelines that apply across the whole region, we also tailor our policies to the different parts of Otago, which have diverse environments, values, challenges, and land use practices.

We call these geographic areas ‘freshwater management units’, and some of them are broken down into smaller parts, called rohe (a Maori word meaning ‘area’).

The Upper Lakes is a rohe, a smaller part of the Clutha/Mata-Au freshwater management unit.

All of that’s to say we need to work out a set of policies and rules for how we manage land and water in the Upper Lakes (with the best water quality in Otago) to preserve their beauty for future generations — and we need your help to do that.

The new plan needs to be easy to use, with clear and simple rules that people can understand.

It also needs to be written with specific environmental outcomes in mind, and it needs to target the activities in our region that impact land and water quality.

The Upper Lakes rohe contains the glacial lakes Wanaka, Hawea and Whakatipu and their tributaries.

It also incorporates the mountain ranges of the Southern Alps in the north.

This area makes up the headwaters of the Clutha/Mata-Au catchment, the largest catchment by area and water volume in New Zealand.

Much of the Upper Lakes rohe is in a natural state, and, as such, changes in land use have the potential to impact the health of the lakes and waterways both within the rohe and
downstream, throughout the rest of the catchment.

Overall, water quality in this area is excellent.

The picturesque Lake Whakatipu is central to Queenstown’s tourism industry, the most important industry sector in the Upper Lakes rohe.

Agricultural activities, as well as horticulture and viticulture operations, are also dependent on freshwater supplies.

Our sparkling lakes and iconic rivers in this corner of Otago are famous around the world, but lesser known are the extensive biodiversity values that freshwater in this area  supports, which include rare and threatened ecosystems and species.

Ephemeral wetlands and braided rivers contribute to biodiversity, as they support a diverse range of native freshwater fish, invertebrates, birds, and plants.

Among the diverse fauna in the Upper Lakes are threatened birds (the Australasian bittern, black-billed gull, blue duck and southern crested grebe) and non-migratory galaxias.

Many native freshwater species are under threat and continue to decline.

It was great to have over 60 people from around the area come along to share their thoughts with us last week.

If you missed the meetings, it’s not too late to have your say.

Until 10 December, you can share your thoughts on managing freshwater and land in this rohe through our website.

You can take a look at what we know about the Upper Lakes from our science monitoring, and view the presentation from last week’s meetings.

This is by no means the last chance to have your input into the land and water regional plan, but it is an important opportunity to influence the early stages of the development of the plan, and the provisions that will address issues specific to the Upper Lakes.

We are planning a follow-up meeting next February, where ORC and Kai Tahu will present and discuss a preferred approach to land and water management in this rohe, based in part on the input we receive now.

After the plan is notified, by the end of 2023, there will be another opportunity for public input through the submissions process.

To see the presentation, view scientific information about the Upper Lakes rohe, and have your say, visit orc.govt.nz/UpperLakes

Gary Kelliher is an Otago regional councillor