Canty council and Maori work together to save lake

Lake Forsyth from the Little River Rail Trail. Photo: Schwede66, wikipedia

A Canterbury Lake, infamous for toxic algae blooms so poisonous sheep and pets have died after drinking from it, is finally getting the attention it deserves, as two groups join forces to improve its health.

Christchurch City Council and Wairewa Rūnanga have committed to improving the ailing health of Te Roto o Wairewa (Lake Forsyth, Little River) by the signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) this afternoon at Wairewa Marae at Little River.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel and Wairewa Rūnanga chair Rei Simon signed the MoU which commits the council and rūnanga to working together to coordinate the artificial opening and shutting of the lake. The opening and closing controls the lake water level - a higher lake level allows plants to grow along the edge helping to control unwanted sedimentation which leads to algae bloom.

Mayor Dalziel says, "The lake is the life blood of this community and it is important that we work together to find solutions to the environmental hazards we are facing."

Te Roto o Wairewa (Lake Forsyth) has been subjected to toxic algal blooms since the early 1900s, but these blooms have become increasingly severe in recent years.

The lake is also a significant eel fishery for Ngāi Tahu. Due to the algae bloom an eeling rahui or ban has been placed over the lake for the past several weeks.

Rūnanga chair Rei Simon says, "Eeling has been our way of life here. The rahui on eeling has meant that we cannot follow our whanau traditions that we have practised for hundreds of years.

"The problem is a legacy issue due to the clearing of the forests and the sediment inflow into the lake, which brings the phosphorous that feeds the bloom."

The MoU places responsibility on both the rūnanga and the council to maintain and monitor the opening and closing of the lake, the plant and birdlife and the levels of the lake.

It will also see the rūnanga construction of a bridge to secure access from Birdlings Flat to Bossu Road.

"For a settlement that is an hour away from the biggest city in the South Island and an international airport, Little River is a piece of paradise and we must do all we can as a community to restore the lake to health," says the mayor.

The MoU will apply for the next 35 years.

Background information about the MoU:

It undertakes to manage the lake as outlined in resource consents in the following ways:

- Jointly manage the opening and closing of Te Roto o Wairewa ( Lake Forsyth)

- Agreeing to certain obligations and responsibilities with regard to inspecting and maintaining the groyne that opens and shuts the lake

- Erecting signage at the site

- Carrying out canal maintenance

- Developing and implementing a landscape management plan

- Undertaking bird and plant surveys

- Monitoring lake levels, trends and the occurrence of the toxic algae bloom.