Lawyers were the only losers yesterday after a historic agreement was signed which goes a long way to improving the future of Lake Rotorua.
After a long battle concerning pollution in Lake Rotorua, representatives of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Federated Farmers and the Lake Rotorua Primary Producers' Collective signed a memorandum of understanding - known as the Oturoa Agreement - to significantly reduce nitrate levels in the lake during the next 20 years.
The agreement bought to an end a two-year Environment Court battle between Federated Farmers and the regional council after the council introduced a regulation requiring the annual nitrogen load going into the lake had to be slashed by more than 300 tonnes within 10 years.
Federated Farmers said it would withdraw its appeal after agreeing to a compromise which would still see 70 per cent of the original target reached by the deadline, with the remainder by 2032.
Farmers feared the council's requirement would have proved devastating for them, causing job losses and hurting the local economy.
The compromise was brokered by Rotorua MP Todd McClay who had been working with the three groups since November last year to settle an almost 20-year dispute between the regional council and the farming community which ended up in the Environment Court.
"There's only one group of losers today and that would be the lawyers ... the winners are the people of Rotorua and New Zealand who will ultimately benefit from this agreement," Mr McClay said.
Lake Rotorua Primary Producers' Collective chairman Dr Tanira Kingi said agriculture and farming were integral to the local economy and welcomed the signing.
"The collective's decision to sign this agreement demonstrates the willingness of farmers and landowners within the catchment to work with the regional council to restore the lake while maintaining the viability of the local farming sector.
"The agreement is also an important step towards getting more certainty around the nutrient reduction targets, timeframe, available resources and the process going forward," Dr Kingi said.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council chief executive Mary-Anne Macleod said the agreement meant the parties could focus on work to support farming and clean up Lake Rotorua rather than wasting time and resources on a protracted and expensive legal challenge.
Ms Macleod said work would now begin with the Lake Rotorua Stakeholder Advisory Group and the regional council to develop rules and incentives required to achieve the necessary nutrient reductions.
The advisory group is made up of representatives from the Lake Rotorua Primary Producers Collective, Lakes Water Quality Society, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Rotorua District Council, Te Arawa Lakes Trust, Office of the Maori Trustee, the forestry sector, Te Arawa landowners and small block owners.
Lakes Water Quality Society spokesman Ian McLean said the deal fell short of what the society had hoped for, but was still a turning point for restoring the lake's health. "This, I think, shows what is possible with the right leadership and as such it's a demonstration to the rest of the country that it's possible to have win-win situations," he said.
Rotorua and Taupo Federated Farmers provincial president Neil Heather said farmers recognised the work that had to be done to bring Lake Rotorua back from the brink and was pleased the role of agriculture and its importance to jobs and income in the region had been recognised.
"We are committed to working closely with the regional council in partnership to do what needs to be done for Lake Rotorua," he said.
-additional reporting APN News & Media