Progress on lakes centre

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The group planning to develop a freshwater research and education centre in Wanaka says it is in “business planning mode” and looking at funding options for the facility.

The Alpine Lakes Research and Education Centre (ALREC) steering committee was formed in September with the aim of developing the centre on a former trout hatchery site owned by Otago Fish and Game.

Committee spokeswoman Maggie Lawton this week told The News a memorandum of understanding between Fish and Game, the University of Otago and the Lake Wanaka Trust had been signed.

Chaired by Wanaka man Russell McGeorge, the trust was formed in September.

“The purpose of the trust includes working with community groups and other organisations to safeguard and enhance the health and water quality of Lake Wanaka and the wider catchment,” Mr McGeorge said at the time.

Establishment of the research centre was one of the first initiatives to be supported by the group that includes trustees Jeff Donaldson, Calum MacLeod, Don Robertson and Ms Lawton.

Ms Lawton said a concept plan of the research centre had been prepared by Wanaka architect Chris Norman. The centre would include facilities for education, a “wet laboratory” and an accommodation block for about 10-12 people.

“The committee will now be considering a range of funding options from central and local government to groups and individuals who want to contribute to the establishment of facilities to carry out research and education to help protect our stunning alpine lakes,” she said.

There were “significant concerns” about ecological changes to the alpine lakes, including Lakes Wanaka, Hawea and Wakatipu.

All were now infested with lake snow, believed to be caused by the algae Cyclotella bodanica and responsible for fouling fishing lines and clogging water filters.

The algae has been present in Lake Wanaka for more than six years and last week the Otago Regional Council and the Queenstown Lakes District Council confirmed it had been found in the other two water bodies.

Ms Lawton said the proposed centre would provide the opportunity to learn more about factors affecting the “whole line-up” of alpine lakes.

Guardians of Lake Wanaka chairman Don Robertson said there was little knowledge about the algae.

“No-one really knows if it is indigenous or introduced.

“It is prolific in Wanaka, occurring in Wakatipu and it is only a matter of time before it is found in Lake Dunstan.”

Last week, Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult said he had discussed the district’s water quality problems with Environment Minister Nick Smith, who earlier in the year launched the Government’s $100 million Freshwater Improvement Fund.

“He has indicated that water quality in our district’s lakes is high on his agenda and research into the issue of lake algae would be likely to qualify for investment using this fund,” Mr Boult said.

Mr Robertson said the Lake Wanaka Trust would be the appropriate body to apply for and manage funding, and that the government fund would be explored.