Appendix 4: About the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Strategy Group

Principles for effectively co-governing natural resources.

Type of arrangement

The Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Strategy Group is a joint committee established under the Local Government Act 2002.


The Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes catchment includes the 12 large Rotorua lakes and their associated catchments. Rotorua, Rotoiti, Rotoehu, and Ōkāreka are identified as the four priority lakes.

The other lakes are Rotoma, Okataina, Tarawera, Tikitapu, Rotokakahi, Rotomahana, Okaro, and Rerewhakaaitu.

The lakes are an important local, regional, and national asset. They are a significant tourist destination. Each year, Lake Rotorua alone welcomes more than 500,000 international visitors. The lakes are identified as having national, cultural, and heritage significance. They are a taonga to the Te Arawa people and the health of the water is described as essential to their wellbeing.

During the past few decades, the lakes' water quality has deteriorated dramatically because of:

  • sewage discharge from lakeside communities;
  • changes in land-use practices;
  • large amounts of nutrients stored in the bottom sediments (from historical practices such as the discharge of treated sewage into Lake Rotorua); and
  • nutrient enrichment of groundwater aquifers from historical farming practices (which will continue to feed into the lakes during the coming decades).

This has stimulated algal blooms and weed growth. Algal blooms significantly reduce the amenity value of the lakes, pose a risk to human health, and regularly result in lakes being closed to swimming and fishing.


The Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Strategy Group co-ordinates management of the Rotorua lakes. It is made up of elected representatives from Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Te Arawa Lakes Trust, and Rotorua District Council. It is a joint committee within the meaning of clause 30(1)(b) of Schedule 7 to the Local Government Act 2002.

The structure of the strategy group is largely in response to its history. In 2000, Bay of Plenty Regional Council, Te Arawa Māori Trust Board, and Rotorua District Council adopted the Strategy for the Lakes of the Rotorua district after extensive public consultation. The strategy sought to preserve and protect the lakes of the Rotorua district and their catchments 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. After adopting the strategy, the three organisations considered the opportunities for a joint governance structure.

In 2003, the regional council and the district council set up a joint committee under the provisions of the Local Government Act. Membership rights were extended to the Te Arawa Māori Trust Board. The following year, the parties agreed the basis for a new joint committee to be called the Rotorua Lakes Strategy Group.

The committee was given formal status in 2006 through the Te Arawa Lakes Settlement Act 2006, which also transferred ownership of the lakebeds back to Te Arawa. The Act also set up the Te Arawa Lakes Trust (which replaced the Te Arawa Māori Trust Board).

In 2007, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Crown and the strategy group members. The purpose of the memorandum of understanding was to help the four partners in addressing the future of the Rotorua lakes. The parties sought to maintain or improve the water quality of the lakes through a Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Action Programme. As part of the memorandum of understanding, the four parties were to consider funding for specific projects on a case-by-case basis to contribute to agreed project outcomes.

In 2008, the Crown, through the Ministry for the Environment, committed $72.1 million to the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Programme to reach water quality targets for the four priority lakes. Bay of Plenty Regional Council and Rotorua District Council matched this funding for a total programme cost of $144.2 million, with additional funding for the protection and restoration of the other eight lakes.


The strategy group represents the opportunity to provide for Te Arawa's relationship with its ancestral lakes, and express rangatiratanga, by managing the lakes' catchments through Te Arawa values. The arrangement recognises that Te Arawa owns the lake beds, and "it has got to be more than just nominal ownership".

The purpose is expressed in the Treaty settlement legislation as:

… to contribute to the promotion of the sustainable management of the Rotorua Lakes and their catchments, 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.


The strategy group consists of the chairperson and one other representative of the Te Arawa Lakes Trust, the chairperson and another councillor from Bay of

Plenty Regional Council, and the Mayor and another councillor from Rotorua District Council.


The activities carried out under the strategy are fully reported. The strategy group meets every three months. Team leaders report to the steering group, which relays reports to the strategy group. The agendas and minutes for the strategy group are posted on the regional council's website.

The group reports every six months. This is the main mechanism by which the group knows whether outcomes are achieved. This is based on outcomes and output and includes targets for the lake and how goals are being tracked. The report includes extensive water quality monitoring. As of October 2015, the latest report on the website was for June to December 2012.

The strategy group produces an annual programme report. As of October 2015, the latest on the website is for 2012/13. The latest report detailed progress made in the fifth year of Crown-funded works relating to the four priority lakes. It also provided an update on work to protect and restore the eight non-deed-funded lakes. This included financial information. These reports are included in the regional council's annual report.

Being accountable to the community

The strategy group sees itself as accountable to the community because funding for the lakes has come from ratepayers. For example, the website states that the group's goal is to achieve water quality targets set with the community for each of the 12 lakes.

One of the participants emphasised the importance of being transparent about how decisions about using public money are made. For example, as part of the programme, the Lake Rotorua Incentives Board has been established to purchase the permanent reduction of nutrients entering Lake Rotorua. It does this through securing land management or land use change. Because Rotorua is a small community, people on the Board have connections to some landowners who may seek to sell nutrients. Therefore, the Board has to manage conflicts of interest.

The strategy group reports directly to the regional council about how it has spent ratepayers' money on the lakes.

Being accountable to the Crown

The strategy group has to deliver on its contract with the Ministry for the Environment, which has to oversee and account for how the money is spent. Each year, the strategy group has to prepare an annual work programme and then report to the Ministry for the Environment on that work programme, including financial information. These reports are provided every six months. Also, a Ministry for the Environment representative attends the Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes steering group meetings to maintain a good understanding of the programme and provide further oversight.


Action plans are under way for each of 12 lakes to improve their quality, including:

  • reducing their nutrient (nitrogen and phosphorus) levels;
  • sewerage reticulation of lake-side communities;
  • ongoing harvesting of lake weeds;
  • building floating wetlands;
  • land management change to reduce run-off of sediments and nutrients; and
  • changing land use by clearing gorse permanently and converting land to low nitrogen land use.

One example of action planned is the building of an in-lake wall to prevent nutrient-rich water entering Lake Rotoiti. The regional council is also preparing a set of regional rules to reduce nitrogen entering Lake Rotorua. These rules build on a nutrient capping rule – Rule 11 – which limits the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus from land-use activities.

The strategy group reports on the lakes programme on a dedicated website. The website contains information on the activities and achievements. It also provides an explanation of activities taken. The website provides information about whether the individual lakes are meeting nitrogen and phosphorus targets.

The Ministry for the Environment website is updated as information comes in. The latest update from April 2015 reported that the programme has had some remarkable success to date:

  • Lake Rotorua has reached its long-term water quality target as a result of stream phosphorus-locking.
  • A long-term solution to reduce nutrients from the pastoral sector has been developed by a stakeholder advisory group and approved for practice. This will allow water quality to be sustained without detracting from the viability of the rural economy.
  • Lake Rotoiti reached its water quality target, showing the best results since monitoring of the lake began in the 1990s.
  • Lake Rotoehu, one of the most degraded lakes earlier, is close to reaching its water quality target.
  • Lake Ōkāreka's water quality is stable and nutrient targets have been met. All funded interventions have been completed. However, it will take time for these interventions to improve water quality.

Rotorua District Council staff explained that improvements from land use change will take longer to deliver and longer to see the effect but without the land use changes all of the other interventions will be negated. This information is repeated on the programme's dedicated website.

One participant shared a success story with us:

There were some floating islands – floating plants on bottles. These were meant to clean up the lake by soaking up the nutrients. The waka paddled these out and tied them to a buoy. And the ropes broke, so we had to tie them up again. There was a win after a few months – after we pulled the bottles in to take a sample of the plants and send them off for testing. We lifted the bottles out of the water and in between the bottles there were thousands of little creatures, they were koura. The iwi saw this and were happy. The measure of success for them around the health of the lake is the ability to feed guests and sustain themselves from the lake.

The regional council chairperson spoke of an enduring relationship with Te Arawa when the technical targets for the lakes have been reached. In speaking of this, he described how iwi recognise that some of the interventions to improve the lake require chemicals but the partners do not want to rely on that to succeed. The strategy group chairperson explained that some Māori considered that "a foreign substance" was being put into the lake "to clean up another foreign substance".

The strategy group recognises that it needs a strategy that understands that, although the focus for the lakes might change over 30 years, iwi aspirations might not. Iwi want the lakes to be maintained in a sustainable way and the councils to maintain a relationship with Te Arawa.

The chairperson of the regional council described the Bay of Plenty’s partnership model with iwi as a template for other councils. The Mayor of Rotorua District Council thought that the success of the relationship between the three parties was outstanding and an exemplar that should be shared with the rest of the country and internationally. She described the strategy group as a leading collaborative project: 

This is a journey that has been going around the table for 12 years. It has a massive history from a community that was disconnected from their lakes to a community that is now very connected from both a Pākehā and Māori perspective. I often sit at national symposiums and wonder why they don't tell the Rotorua story and the lessons learned.