Update - August 23
Rotoiti Lake Levels Highest in 50 Years
Although the Rotorua district escaped the devastating extremes of the climatic bombshell that devastated the east coast communities earlier this year, we nevertheless took a substantial hit with some extremely high rainfall volumes. The Okawa Bay gauge recorded 600mm during January and February and a further 478mm through May resulting in a roller coaster for lake levels through to mid-July as illustrated in this chart.
Despite the Okere gates being held virtually wide open for 153 out of the 212 days to the end of July, Rotoiti exceeded the operational and consented upper levels over lengthy periods, reaching its highest level in 50 years during February. It is fortunate that the Ōkere/Kaituna river system accommodates much of the overflow, whereas our neighbouring lakes Rotoehu and Rotomā have no natural outlets and continue to suffer from extreme flood levels that have impacted badly on their local communities.
Since late July, lake levels have for the most part been managed by BoP Regional Council within the consented operational envelope despite some perceptions within our communities, i.e. between RL279.10 and 279.20 metres Moturiki datum, whilst ensuring lake outflows exceed inflows. Nonetheless, Council has been controlling the gates strategically in attempting to provide maximum opportunities for commercial rafting operations on the river as provided for in the consent. In so doing, the upper level has been breached on a couple of occasions due partly to unpredictable weather. Whilst we should support these opportunities, LRCA has reminded Council of established protocols towards prioritising water quality, mitigating potential flooding and maintaining lake recreational access.
Update - August 23
Fluctuating Lake Levels Remain High
Following the cyclones of January/February, Rotoiti lake levels have continued to be volatile with drier spells through March/April and then another 478mm rainfall fell during May which kept levels high throughout June/July due to continuing ground saturation across the District. The Okere gates were in fact kept wide open every day from 1 May to 27 July (88 days). The advent of drier El Nino weather patterns has provided recent relief enabling the lake to be held within operational range over August whilst allowing for some commercial rafting activities to resume on the Kaituna River.
Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Operational Liaison Group
The Annual Meeting of Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Operational Liaison Group (RTALOLG) was held 21st June. Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s 2022/23 Annual Report for presentation/discussion can be viewed HERE. The RTALOLG was set up as a condition of the Environment Commissioners decision following the Review of 2012. The purpose of the meeting is for BoPRC to present its Annual Report on Lake Level Management for year 1 April to 31 March to the Liaison Group which includes iwi group representatives, and provide opportunity for discussion of any issues which may have arisen. The Group is able to make relevant recommendations for consideration by BoPRC.New LRCA Member sort for Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Operational Liaison Group
Jim Stanton is our long term LRCA representative on this Group and completes his current term as Chair next year. Further back-up representation is desirable so if any LRCA member is keen to become involved in this issue please email us at LRCA@rotoiti.co.nz. Ideally, to help maintain our close participation going forward, the contender would be prepared to gain a good background knowledge of the history surrounding the maintenance of Rotoiti lake levels, keep abreast of evolving issues, and be available to attend any important meetings etc.
Update - March 23
Weather Events Keep Lake High
Persistent weather events throughout January and February have seen 600mm rain recorded at the Okawa Bay monitor during that period. Accordingly, lake levels have remained above or close to the top of the operational range with Rotoiti levels reaching RL279.487 metres on February 6th (almost 90mm above the consented range and the highest recorded since the 1960-70s). Concerns have been expressed over resultant erosion around the lake margins which has occurred in numerous areas.
The uncertainties surrounding ongoing weather patterns have influenced management regimes. BoPRC sought to maintain Rotoiti levels close to the operating median of RL279.15 metres in the early stages of summer to alleviate any extended dry periods. However, ground water levels in the Rotorua catchment remained abnormally high from the end of November. The frequent disruption of rain events from the beginning of December kept the level closer to the operating maximum of RL279.20 metres. Unfortunately it remained near the top of the range when the two weather bombs at the end of January – early February eventuated.
The Okere gates were held wide open from 28 January to 9 March and continue to be managed in response to forecast weather patterns. Constant high flow rates out of the Ōhau Channel due to enduring ground saturation throughout the Rotorua district have significantly contributed to the ongoing abnormal lake levels. These high outflows have also severely restricted Ōkere/Kaituna river activities with few commercial rafting opportunities over the past 6-8 weeks. It remains to be seen whether the more settled weather conditions predicted for autumn in fact prevail.
Update - December 22
December 22 Update from BoPRC
The December 22 Update from BoPRC for Lake Structure Owners also covers the consent decision for the temporary lowering of Lake Rotoiti.
The change of consent application to allow the temporary lowering of Lake Rotoiti for a short 5-day period was granted in October by the Hearing Commissioners. The commissioners were interested in the reason for the application and the mitigation of any effects of the temporary event.
Special conditions have been imposed on the event, including that the lake must have reached a low trigger level of RL 278.945 m before the attempt to lower the lake can commence. This is likely to happen sometime during late summer or autumn. The target low level is RL278.850, so this is only another 95mm (about four inches) lower.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council can only undertake this minor lowering event once as a result of the consent change. But, due to the conditions relating to the “trigger level” imposed in the consent, they cannot plan for the event when they know rainfall is likely, and that it would rapidly refill the lake. It is subject to naturally low lake levels and this one-off event may happen sometime within the term of the consent.
The lowering is allowed for a 5-day period then Council is required to commence refilling the lake (if water is available, of course).
Council is also required to provide 2 days notification of the lowering attempt. Once the lower level has been reached then no other targeted lowering events are authorised by the consent.
Council staff will attempt to quickly drop the lake level to the target and bring it back into the normal operating range as soon as possible.
For more information, contact Andy Bruere, Bay of Plenty Regional Council: Andy.Bruere@boprc.govt.nz or 021 687 300.
Update October 22
Lake Level Resource Consent Decision
The Decision of the Hearing Commissioners’ has recently been promulgated and we understand that no appeals have been lodged. The determination:-
* declines that part of the proposal ‘to deliberately draw down the lake below current operational minimums during the period from after Easter Monday to 30 June in any year’
* but allows for ‘drawing the Lake down from a level of RL 278.945m, if reached naturally during normal operations, to RL 278.85m (and held for a maximum of five days) on one occasion only at any time during the duration of the current Consent (which expires in 2047) subject to certain specified conditions’.
Whilst there has been some surprise over the determination, it is noted that the potential for the lake to reach very low levels in an extended drought period was always acknowledged. Still, any decision to draw the lake down further from a level of RL 278.945m could well be regarded as ‘deliberate’.
Disappointingly, the conditions negotiated between LRCA and BoPRC to provide a monitoring plan for the purpose of recording community-wide observations have been disregarded. However, the provision to facilitate an inspection of the Lake shore by Ngati Pikiao remains and may involve other parties at the discretion of the consent holder.
The findings and rationale for these determinations can be viewed HERE. The revised Resource Consent was also promulgated but LRCA has pointed out that it contains some previously revoked conditions which should be struck out and then re-issued.
Update - 30 May 22
Lake Level Resource Consent Variation
As reported in our recent update, LRCA received a most favourable response from Bay of Plenty Regional Council regarding our recommendation for a revision of the Proposed Conditions for drawdown, including an Observation Monitoring Plan. The further improvements requested by us have also now been accepted. In summary, we have achieved the following:-
* now described as one-off event and no longer a ‘Trial’;
* specific timing restrictions for the proposed drawdown (i.e. no deliberate attempt until after Easter Monday in any one year);
* appropriate controls and notification prior to any such undertaking;
* one attempt only per year during consent period;
* detailed monitoring procedures and obligations during the observation period; and
* adopting the template that LRCA submitted to BoPRC for public feedback.
It is respectfully suggested that it would be appropriate for all submitters to review their position and, if it is now believed that their issues have been adequately addressed through the enhanced draft conditions achieved by LRCA’s intervention, advise BoPRC accordingly prior to the Hearing Date. As previously advised, The Hearing of the Application by Commissioners is scheduled for 14-15 June 2022 to be held at the Millennium Hotel, Rotorua commencing 9.00am each day.
Those who made submissions would have already received the Section 42a Report from BoPRC and more recently the Applicants evidence which contains reference to the revised Conditions and Documents.
The final agreed documents can also be accessed on our website from the following links:
LRCA has now also provided Additional Evidence to its submission outlining all of the factors leading to its initial ‘support in principle’. It further references our success (as detailed above) in gaining BoPRC agreement to significantly enhance the Proposed Conditions and include a comprehensive Observation Monitoring Plan along with a Recording Template for observations from the public.
In concluding its evidence LRCA has advised that given the diverse views resulting from the Consent Application as notified, we have now considered it appropriate to defer the decision to the Commissioner panel with the request that our submission be viewed as neutral rather than in opposition or support. Notwithstanding, if the Application is granted, we have sought to have it based on all of LRCA’s recommended draft Conditions, Management Plan and Template Observer Form to address many of the potential impacts raised in submissions. A copy of the Submitted Additional Evidence can be accessed HERE.
Update - 12 May 22
Lake Level Resource Consent Variation
As reported in our last update, LRCA met via Zoom with the Applicants, Bay of Plenty Regional Council (BoPRC) to discuss our proposed enhancements to the draft conditions with the aim of providing greater clarity around process with respect to the proposed drawdown conditions including a detailed Management Plan for the observation and recording process.
A favourable initial response has recently been received from BoPRC’s legal advisor who has provided Draft Amendments for review in the form of a revision of Proposed Conditions for drawdown, along with an Observation Monitoring Plan. Having since met to discuss these proposals, our committee delegates are pleased to advise that most of the recommendations advanced by LRCA have been incorporated into the modified conditions including the important aspects around timing restrictions for any drawdown, singular attempt only per year, and detailed monitoring procedures and obligations during the observation period.
Nonetheless, we believe that some important specific aspects require further improvement and our co-opted Resource and Planning Environmental consultants, Kate and Craig, will be seeking to have these considered for inclusion. We propose to send out a more comprehensive and detailed update later this month once the amendments have been ratified. As many will know, the Commissioners Hearing of the Application is scheduled for 14-15 June 2022 to be held at the Millennium Hotel, Rotorua. We would encourage all members and others who have an interest in the Lake Rotoiti environment to attend.
Update - January 22
At our 2022 AGM, the Lake Level trial topic was again debated. Jim Stanton summarised the basis of LRCA’s conditional support of the trial requested by Ngati Pikiao - in particular that the trial should occur after Easter (or April to June), not as early as the end of Waitangi weekend as sought, to reduce inconvenience to lake users.
A motion for LRCA to reverse its support for the trial lapsed with no seconder.
Subsequently a motion was passed for LRCA to meet with members Kate Barry-Piceno and Craig Batchelar, who are experts with Resource Consent Law and Planning.
Jim and Roy have met with Kate and we decided to seek a meeting asap with the Regional Council’s team handling this application to vary the existing consent to enable the trial.
Along with Kate and Craig, Jim, Hilary and Roy met with the Council team. A healthy discussion ensued, and the views of LRCA, our members and other lake users were further expressed. The criticality of developing relevant Conditions for the trial, including the observation and recording process, and a workable Management Plan, including how the lake lowering would be managed, was stressed.
We raised the different scenarios of a drought induced lowering of the lake to (or close to) the target level, which may occur before Easter (as it did in 2020), versus a deliberate manual lowering of the lake within the permitted trial window needed to be allowed for. A limitation of multiple aborted attempts in any year, that would lengthen lake user inconvenience is also important.
Agreed actions include the Council Lawyer undertaking to work with their team to review their approach in consideration of our input, and for Kate and Craig to review the Council’s draft conditions.
We will keep you advised of progress.
Roy Duffy, Acting Chair
Update - November 21
Lake Level Submission Opportunity
Lake Level Resource consent change application number CH21-02259 (65979): Bay of Plenty Regional Council - Limited Notification as an Adversely Affected Party
The above application for the temporary variation to Rotoiti lake levels (one-off drop to RL278.85m) was further notified on 15 November 2021 to the owners of boat ramps and boat sheds along with jetty owners that were not included in the first round of limited notification. These parties will have 20 working days from the date of notification to make a submission. It is understood that the Applicant may seek a Pre-Hearing but any further progress will not eventuate until early 2022. 91 submissions have been received from the original notification with 86 of these in partial or total opposition.
Update - September October 21
UPDATE on Proposed trial to lower the level of Lake Rotoiti for one week Resource Consent change application number is CH21-02259 (65979)
The BOP Regional Council and the Ngāti Pikiao Environmental Society jointly propose a Consent Variation to facilitate a trial which will seek to provide for a one-off occurrence whereby water levels within Lake Rotoiti will be drawn down to RL 278.85m and held there for seven days, before being returned to the trial target range of RL 279.10m – 279.20m. Limited Notification to this effect has been approved to be sent to Lake Rotoiti structure owners along with Classic & Wooden Boats Society and BOPTYS (we are aware that not all structure owners have received it).
LRCA is aware of the ongoing unrest amongst many of our members and other sections of the community generated by this recent limited Notification of the Proposal due primarily, we believe, due to some critical ambiguities contained in the AEE (Assessment of Environmental Effects) sent out with the Notification. We have addressed these and associated matters in the recent mail-outs to our database and in our submission to the Proposal.
BoPRC - Proposed Variation to Resource Consents 65979 and 65980 Lake Rotoiti Lake Level Control Trial. Appendix 1 . Maps, Plans and Figures. Revised 7th August 2021 To Support Limited Notification Application
Update - August 21
Lake levels have generally been held within the normal operational range since late April. However, there have been a couple of glitches.
Lake Rotoiti lake levels have been challenged by various long dry spells and some significant short bursts of rainfall since April. For the most part, levels have remained within the normal operating range RL279.10 - 279.20 metres above Moturiki Datum over this period excepting for a week or so in late June when the Okere gates arguably remained open for too long after a significant rainfall event and again more recently as noted below.
During the latter part of August, Rotoiti lake levels fell below the normal operating range RL279.10 – 279.20. This was due primarily to the distinct lack of rainfall over this period and the operational requirement to prevent reflux (backflow of water) around the Ohau Channel Wall. Given these circumstances, BoPRC decided to take the opportunity with falling levels to carry out the annual ‘winter drawdown’ as required by the existing Operational Rules ( a current recommendation for this to be discontinued is under consideration). Regrettably, Council was remiss in not public notifying the event which is mandatory for any decision to implement discretionary drawdown of lake levels below the operating range. Consequently, a formal complaint was lodged by the Lake Rotoiti Classic and Wooden Boat Association. This has been acknowledged by BoPRC and an apology issued.
For clarity, a Consent priority now requires precedence for Okere/Kaituna River outflows to be equal to or greater than Ohau Channel inflows to avert reflux (backflow of nutrient laden Lake Rotorua water into Lake Rotoiti), aiding the enhancement of water quality in Lake Rotoiti. This regime applies under all weather situations, therefore in times of extended drought, Lake Rotoiti levels may continue to fall well below the normal operational minimum as has occurred in recent summers. Flow rates on the Ōhau Channel and through the Okere Gates are monitored at BoPRC by telemetry using NIWA’s lake level recorder at Mission Bay on Lake Rotorua and the Taaheke River Gauge Station on the Kaituna River, located downstream of the Control Gates.
Any incidence of reflux around the Ohau Channel Wall triggers an alert at BoPRC which prompts an immediate adjustment to gate settings.
BoPRC’s revised application for the temporary (3-year) variation to Rotoiti lake levels continues to await a final recommendation from the independent consultant agency and subsequent approval by BoPRC’s Regulatory Arm. There is some indication that an outcome is not too far away.
The annual meeting of the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Operational Liaison Group (RTALOLG) was held on 5 August 2021. The Group was formed as a condition of the 2012 Resource Consent Renewal to provide for ongoing discussion and feedback in respect of lake level management and control. RTALOLG is comprised of various interest groups including LRCA which currently has two nominated representatives ( Jim Stanton and Hilary Prior). Minutes of the meeting can be found HERE.
A reminder that you can access data and information regarding Rotoiti lake levels HERE. Dropdown from ‘Data’ and click on ‘Data Set’, then use the dropdown from ‘Location’ and select ‘FL289316 Lake Rotoiti at Okawa Bay’. Alternative date periods can be selected in the ‘Date: Latest Data’ menu.
Update - March 21
The 2021 year has begun similarly to 2020 with a prolonged period of drought, rainfall being well below historical averages. Existing operational consent conditions require Okere Gate outflows to equal or exceed inflows from Lake Rotorua to optimise lake water quality by preventing reflux back into Lake Rotoiti. Accordingly levels have remained considerably below the aspirational range minimum of RL279.10m.
BoPRC’s Application for a temporary trial (see below) was formally lodged in late July 2020 following an extended community consultation process. The Application was then referred to an external Environmental & Planning Consultancy for assessment of environmental effects. Due to extenuating circumstances further progress was delayed until late 2020 and the Application continues to remain awaiting recommendation and ultimate decision by BoPRC’s Regulatory Arm.
Our PowerPoint presentation to the January 2021 AGM covering the consent application process to date may be accessed HERE.
Further progress will be advised in due course and/or when any deliberate low-level drop is proposed to take place. LRCA has insisted that it occur outside of prime time lake usage periods (preferably after Easter).
Update - December 20
A proposal put forward by BoPRC in late 2019 seeks to undertake a 3-year trial consisting of a modified operational management regime for Lake Rotoiti including a one-off drawdown to a targeted low level of 278.85 held for one week (in lieu of the winter flush) to allow iwi, in particular, and other stakeholder representatives to observe the various impacts first-hand and decide whether any operational changes could be warranted. The Rotorua Te Arawa Operational Liaison Group, on which LRCA is represented, met in November 2019 and unanimously agreed to support this proposal in principle. A more detailed report is contained in our newsletter of December 2019. The matter was subjected to considerable debate at our January 2020 AGM. An Application to vary the existing Consent based on the above proposals has been lodged by BoPRC and currently awaits decision. If granted, BoPRC intend to organise a boat trip around the lake and include representatives of the various stakeholder groups to observe and record what impacts this low level has on the lake environs and its residents.
Lake Level Trial Resources
In July 1972 the Bay of Plenty Catchment Commission (BOPCC - Regional Water Board) promulgated revised Water Right applications for proposed proposed new diversion and discharge works to increase flows and alleviate flooding and high lake levels in and around Lakes Rotorua and Rotoiti as part of the overall flood control scheme for the Kaituna Catchment. Details of the proposed works were to:-
- Construct an additional inlet to the Ohau Channel using a control weir to regulate.
- Widen and deepen the Channel from the inlet to a proposed diversion cut with accompanying control structure downstream from the SH33 bridge which ‘would be sited and operated in such a way that the existing length of the Channel remains unaltered during times of normal lake levels and flows, thus retaining the present delta at the outlet from silting up’.
- Increase and regulate the flow from Lake Rotoiti at the entrance to the Okere River by lowering the level of the rock bar at the head of the rapids and provision of a control structure with moveable gates to retain the level of the lake within set limits.
The diversion cut never eventuated but the control gates at Okere were eventually installed in 1982 and the control weir at the head of the Ohau Channel in 1989.
After concerns were raised by this Association in the mid 1990s during prolonged periods of low lake levels, the original consents were officially reviewed by the controlling body, Bay of Plenty Regional Council (BoPRC) resulting in amended conditions being promulgated in late 1996 to provide for a narrower operating range. This regime prevailed until 2009 when, with the consents due to expire, Ngāti Pikiao iwi representatives began a campaign for a return to natural lake fluctuations and the removal of the Okere Control gates on the premise that its existence and operational management had caused significant detrimental impacts on the lake ecology and on local communities in terms of their economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being.
Following initial consultation hui between BoPRC and local iwi, Council promulgated a proposal to renew the consents, details of which were summarised in the LRCA Newsletter of December 2009. The intention to operate Rotoiti lake levels within a much wider range raised immediate concerns relating to the potential impact on the improvement in lake water quality since the construction of the $10 million Ohau Diversion Wall designed to direct nutrient-laden Lake Rotorua outflow towards the Kaituna river and away from the body of Lake Rotoiti. There were also implications of increased potential for property inundation and likely impact on the ability to pursue boating and recreational activities on the lake.
A public meeting convened by LRCA on 3 January 2010 attracted a huge attendance with more than 550 residents and interested parties gathered to hear and express concerns over the new proposals. The meeting mandated LRCA ‘to seek retention of the Okere gates and existing consent conditions, and represent the community in conducting negotiations and proceedings as it saw fit’. Subsequently, a number of consultation meetings and open days were held resulting in a revised Consent Application being notified by BoPRC in July 2010. Following multiple submissions, with LRCA having been further mandated to support the amended proposals, the case was heard in front of three Environment Commissioners culminating in a favourable decision being notified in late January 2011.
However, an appeal lodged with the Environment Court by the Ngāti Pikiao Environmental Society prolonged the implementation of the revised Consents and Operating Conditions. This resulted in various mediation meetings being held after which Consent Condition Amendments were finally agreed to by all parties and signed off on 26 March 2012. A comprehensive and detailed outline of all proceedings can be found in the Association newsletters of 2010 through to August 2012, (which are archived on this website). Since that time, Ngāti Pikiao has produced a Cultural Impact Assessment of Rotoiti lake level management which further identified a number of the afore-mentioned issues of importance to local iwi. These issues have been subject to ongoing discussion and debate primarily between BoPRC, Iwi and LRCA.