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Saving lake one waterway at a time

Last updated 05:00 05/08/2014
Stephen Grey, Efeso Collins
Anna Loren

WAI NOT? Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board member Stephen Grey, left, and chairman Efeso Collins are on a mission to clean up Otara Lake once and for all.

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It will take decades to restore one of Auckland's most polluted waterways so the work might as well start now.

That's the view of the Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board which is diving into a long-term project to clean up Otara Lake and the streams which flow into it.

Member Stephen Grey admits it's an ambitious project but says there's no time like the present.

"Everyone's looked at the lake and seen a multi-million dollar price tag and given up," Grey says.

"We thought ‘Why don't we just start now and do a series of small projects inside a bigger project?'."

The 50-hectare lake was created in the 1960s as a supply of cooling water for the adjacent power station.

It is largely cut off from tidal flows by a man-made weir, and sediment, litter and heavy metals have built up over time.

The lake is fed by several tidal streams which draw water from a 3500ha catchment area. Those have also been polluted and degraded by urban development over the past 50 years, Grey says.

Many clean-up campaigns have been launched over the decades but have had little success.

Board chairman Efeso Collins says the latest project is a way of honouring those early leaders who have "never let go of the dream for these waterways".

They include long-time lake campaigner Jim Sinclair, who the local board has thanked for his "untiring" commitment to the cause. "We owe it to them to provide strategic leadership," Collins says.

The project is inspired by plans created by students from Manukau Institute of Technology, Unitec and the North China University of Technology.

Many organisations have also signed on to join the steering group for the campaign, Collins says.

"They understand that an environmental project like this connects us all."

Grey admits the cost of cleaning up the lake - likely to run well into the millions - is "well beyond" the local board's resources.

So the board will be approaching the Government, Auckland Council's governing body, local businesses, charities and other funding providers for help. It will also be seeking overseas funders.

Specific clean-up activities, time frames and budgets are yet to be decided but will be released as they are finalised.

Grey says the board has a wealth of research to draw on and will consult with experts all the way through the project.

It will need the co-operation of people in the entire catchment area, not just Otara, in order to make the campaign a success, he says.

"Arresting the volume of sediments, litter and suspended heavy metals currently entering the waterways, could take years alone to achieve," Grey says.

"But we have weighed the weight of this task against the option of continuing to do nothing. It then become obvious that we must begin."

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- Manukau Courier

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