Te Arawa – Rotorua Lakes Restoration Programme


This relationship has been established to protect and preserve 12 large lakes in the Rotorua area and to maintain or improve their water quality through the Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Programme.


The Te Arawa/Rotorua Lakes are seen as iconic by many New Zealanders. They have unique cultural, historical, social and economic value locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Saving the Te Arawa/Rotorua Lakes, heart of Te Arawa and national icon for all New Zealanders, is the kaupapa (purpose) behind the Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Programme.

A Lakes Management Working Group (consisting of Te Arawa Māori Trust Board, Environment Bay of Plenty and Rotorua District Council) was initially established in 1998 to identify and address the problems arising from a lack of coordination between the many groups with interests in managing the lakes, and then to consider how the law and those concerned could work together to solve problems as effectively and efficiently as possible.

The commitment of the various authorities to unite efforts and resources to achieve sustainable lake and catchment management through the Lakes Management Working Group and to develop a lakes management strategy was essential to the future of the lakes.

In 2000 the Lakes Management Strategy was released to the community for consultation and feedback. A Draft Strategy for the Lakes of the Rotorua District was adopted in October 2002. The document sets goals for the protection, use, enjoyment and management of the lakes.

The Rotorua Lakes Strategy Group (previously known as the Rotorua Lakes Strategy Joint Committee) was established under the Local Government Act 2002 through the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement Act 2006 and sees Te Arawa’s membership as of right. The legislation provides for the group’s permanence. The Lakes Strategy Group consists of Te Arawa Lakes Trust (previously Te Arawa Māori Trust Board), Environment Bay of Plenty (EBOP) and the Rotorua District Council (RDC). The Strategy Group have worked cooperatively on a programme of action for the protection and restoration of the Te Arawa Lakes as agreed in the vision and purpose:

“The lakes of the Rotorua district and their catchments are preserved and protected for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations, while recognising and providing for the traditional relationship of Te Arawa with their ancestral lakes.”

In April 2007, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Crown and the Rotorua Lakes Strategy Group was signed to formally establish a working relationship between the parties for the purpose of maintaining and improving the water quality of the lakes through the Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Action Programme.


Each partner of the strategy group plays a vital and different role.

The Crown, as the owner of Crown stratum, which is the space occupied by water and the space occupied by air above each Te Arawa lake bed, provides a national perspective on lake management and matters of national importance. It funds 50 percent of the project and a Ministry for the Environment representative attends meetings as an observer.

The role of Te Arawa Lakes Trust is to represent the iwi. Te Arawa has mana whenua as the owner of the lake beds and provides cultural advice on all aspects pertaining to the lakes.

The role of Environment Bay of Plenty is to:

  • implement the strategy for Rotorua Lakes
  • administer the relevant sections of the Resource Management Act 1991
  • monitor water quality issues
  • implement the Recreation Strategy and Aquatic Pest Management strategy
  • plan for and manage land uses within the lake catchments
  • fund 50 percent of the project, in association with the district council.

The role of the Rotorua District Council is to:

  • administer the relevant sections of the Resource Management Act 1991
  • provide and maintain the urban sewerage and storm water discharge infrastructure
  • plan for and manage land uses within the lake catchments
  • fund 50% of the project, in association with Environment Bay of Plenty.

What happens

The Rotorua Lakes Strategy Group develops a comprehensive programme to protect the water quality of lakes within the Rotorua District, as well as to restore those with poor water quality back to acceptable levels. The programme is well advanced with significant planning, management, physical intervention and scientific research under way or completed.

The most notable part of the programme is that it includes 12 lakes, each of which has a different combination of issues and options for remediation. The programme is a $200m project over the next 20 years to:

  • improve sewage reticulation
  • intercept and treat nutrient flows to the lakes
  • promote changes in land use to reduce inherent leaching

All parties meet regularly to discuss and debate issues, consider funding for specific projects on a case-by-case basis, facilitate consultation amongst and between parties and with other stakeholders, and negotiate funding for work to be done.

A major focus of the programme is the development of Lakes Action Plans which focus on ways to reduce nutrients in the lakes. Some actions tackle nutrients already in the water while others focus on cutting back the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus washed overland or leaching through groundwater systems. The aim is that all the Te Arawa/Rotorua Lakes will have an action plan.

A working party is central to the development of each action plan. These have political representatives from regional and district councils, landowners, iwi, and community and interest groups. The working parties discuss and evaluate options and solutions to improve lake water quality, identify knowledge gaps and recommend action. Two independent technical advisory groups (for land use and water quality) help evaluate the options from a scientific perspective.

Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

This relationship is an example of what is meant by Article 29 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which says that ‘indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection.’

What is working well

The partners of the Rotorua Lakes Strategy Group work collaboratively and effectively, presenting a collective front to other stakeholders. Some indicators of success include:

  • the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement Act 2006 has been achieved and this has been accepted as a crucial factor in providing a foundation for the remedial and restorative initiatives for the Te Arawa Lakes
  • funds are being secured from government to assist in the programme
  • the collaboration provides leverage for cleaning the Te Arawa/Rotorua Lakes
  • the community, organisations and groups have become actively involved in working together to fix their lakes
  • science and research organisations, through various projects and programmes, have provided the Strategy Group with a greater understanding of the Te Arawa/Rotorua Lakes
  • All parties acknowledge the establishment of Rotorua Lakes Strategy Group through the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement Act 2006.

Looking ahead

As a long term project to fix a complex and difficult situation, the Protection and Restoration Programme is already beginning to reverse the decline of water quality in the lakes and it is expected that this improvement will continue. The project is an example of Māori and Pākehā working for change and standing together to do so along with the Crown.


You can visit these websites to learn more about the work of the Te Arawa Lakes Trust, the Memorandum of Understanding between the parties and the ongoing progress of the Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Programme.

10 July 2009

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