Lake Horowhenua toxic enough to kill a child

00:17, Feb 09 2012

Water in Lake Horowhenua is so toxic that it could kill a small child, regional councillors have been told.

In certain conditions, and if cyanobacteria were present, the lake could be lethal to animals and small children, a scientist with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Dr Max Gibbs, told Horizons Regional Council's environment committee yesterday.

Dr Gibbs was presenting a selection of initiatives to help improve the water quality of the Levin lake, which is floating just off the bottom of the New Zealand lake-water quality rankings, sitting at 107 out of 116.

It has been known for some time that the lake has been in trouble, but steps to improve water quality have been swamped with controversy about who is responsible for the cleanup and who owns it.

Dr Gibbs has been commissioned by the regional council to investigate ways to improve the lake. He said one of the most important things was to get the public to buy into a commitment to clean it up.

"Without that it will be hard to achieve," Dr Gibbs said.

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Horowhenua district councillor Anne Hunt said she was "horrified" to learn the water in the lake had got so bad.

"I was mortified to hear Dr Gibbs saying that if a child swallowed a mouthful of water that it could kill a child. It's supposed to be a public recreation reserve and to hear it had deteriorated to that state was deeply disturbing."

Horowhenua Mayor Brendan Duffy said while communication was good, there needed to be some movement towards a resolution.

"The community has had enough about talking. It's time for action now," Mr Duffy said.

He said he would like to see a cohesive effort to improve the lake.

"It would be good to establish an accord like the Manawatu River Accord. We need a complete and encompassing approach that will get constructive resolution."

Horizons chief executive Michael McCartney agreed, saying that the river accord was a good model.

Self-appointed lake guardian Philip Taueki said in an email to the Manawatu Standard that the lake was a taonga to his tribe, Mua Upoko, and that he would close the lake to protect the customary owners and to eliminate the possibility of someone being killed or made seriously sick.

"I hope I heard Dr Gibbs wrong, but I believe he stated that one mouthful of the lake water could kill a child."

Eleven ideas to help the lake were put forward, from stormwater diversion to harvesting lake weeds by machinery. Eighty per cent of lake phosphorous came from stormwater and Dr Gibbs named Levin's Queen St stormwater as a major culprit.

Mr Duffy said a resolution to that problem was close and that the district council had set aside about $100,000 for upgrades to the drain.

Mr McCartney said none of the initiatives was worrying in terms of cost, but collectively it would cost about $2 million to implement them all. "The discussion needs to be had about where that money will come from."

Cr Hunt said she laid the blame for the state of the lake with the Crown. "The lake domain board has had control of the lake since 1905, when it was the envy of people around the country. This is what the Crown has done to the lake. It has allowed it to deteriorate to the state where it could kill a child."

Manawatu Standard