The Lake Taupo Protection Project is in a money squeeze, reports Aaron Leaman.
Plans to reduce nitrogen discharges into Lake Taupo appear under threat with the Government balking at a request for more funds.
In 2007, Waikato Regional Council, together with Taupo District Council and the Crown, agreed to jointly fund the Lake Taupo Protection Project.
The parties also established the Lake Taupo Protection Trust and tasked it with reducing nitrogen discharges into the lake by 20 per cent. A recent review of the project found it was working well but said the project's nitrogen reduction target had to be increased from 153 tonnes a year to 183 tonnes.
Removing the extra nitrogen is expected to cost about $12 million.
The review concluded the current project funding would not be enough and "the achievement of the project objective is now seriously at risk". Under the current project agreement, $72.4m is available for purchasing nitrogen.
Although both councils have said they can fund their share of the extra $12m, the Government has held off committing further funds. The Crown provides 45 per cent of the trust's funds and the two councils 55 per cent.
This week the Lake Taupo Protection Project joint committee will meet for an update on the looming funding shortfall.
In a letter last month to regional council chairman Peter Buckley, Environment Ministry chief executive Dr Paul Reynolds said the ministry was committed to achieving a 20 per cent reduction in nitrogen leaching, saying it was a "nationally significant project".
But he said any changes to funding needed thorough analysis and Cabinet signoff. "At this point in time the ministry is not in a position to commit to the level of funding required to achieve the additional 30 [tonnes of nitrogen].
"I appreciate that the commitment I am offering does not provide certainty around the level of future funding for the project ... I am, however, committed to ensuring we find a way to achieve the agreed outcome for this project."
Mr Buckley told the Waikato Times he was confident of a positive outcome and was assured the ministry was exploring all funding initiatives.
"The Government has already started investigating how they can come up with their funding share, which is about $5.4m, and reading between the lines I think it's a positive sign," he said.
"Protecting Lake Taupo is a project that has national significance and importance for all New Zealanders.
"It's an iconic lake."
During its draft long-term submissions process, the regional council asked for feedback on what it should do if Crown funding was not forthcoming. It also asked whether it should renegotiate the project agreement and funding ratios.
Feedback showed opinion is divided, with some submitters questioning why ratepayers outside the Taupo district had to contribute to the project. email@example.com
- © Fairfax NZ News
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