Fix long overdue for 'orphan' Lake Dunstan

by Kim Bowden - Dec 16, 2019

Cromwell’s lake watchdogs reckon Lake Dunstan’s been long-neglected and today they’re gathering together powers-that-be in an historic meeting to lobby for better management of the watery asset.

According to Duncan Faulkner, the fresh face at the helm of the Guardians of Lake Dunstan group, the lake is not quite the jewel in Cromwell’s crown that it could be.

Guardians of Lake Dunstan chairman Duncan Faulkner: 'You just have to look around the lake to see it’s been neglected.'

Follow the Clutha and Kawarau rivers upstream and you’ll find shimmering examples of lakes given the priority they deserve, and communities reaping the benefits, he says.

And he’s not alone on this: Feedback from the community as part of the Cromwell masterplan process shows many others see the lake as an under-utilised and neglected asset.

“At the moment, it’s just a gully that’s been filled up with water with a few trees on the side.

“You just have to look around the lake to see it’s been neglected.

“We’re not recognised as a lake town. We’re missing a huge economic opportunity.”

The lake was forced on the town three decades or so ago with the creation of the Clyde dam, and as part of that project there was a social responsibility to the town that hasn’t been seen through, Mr Faulkner says.

“I think the dam project isn’t yet complete…somewhere along the line, the funding just disappeared.”

Part of the issue lies in the number of authorities responsible for different aspects of the lake’s management, Mr Faulkner says.

“Because it is a manmade lake and it is only 30 years old, it’s essentially become a bit of an orphan. No single organisation wants to take responsibility for it.”

It’s owned by the Crown and administered by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ) on its behalf.

There's the Central Otago District Council, who manages some activities in and around the lake, while the Otago Regional Council (ORC) is in charge of others, including pollution and weed control.

Further complicating things, LINZ then contracts some of its management responsibilities to Colliers, while the ORC contracts weed control to Boffa Miskell.

Finally, there’s Contact Energy, who control the dam at Clyde and have “a bunch” of easements and conditions on the lake.

“It’s just this complex spider’s web of different people…none of them following a single strategic plan.”

Three months into his new role as chairman of the Guardians, Mr Faulkner says the group’s governance structure is strong and it’s in a position to lead the development of a strategic vision for the lake and hold the multiple organisations charged with its care to account.

Today, he’s sitting down with representatives from all the authorities to talk cohesive vision.

Top of his agenda: improved access to the lake, weed control and development of lakefront reserves.

Invasive aquatic weed lagarosiphon is choking popular swimming spots on Lake Dunstan, says lake lobbyists, the Guardians of Lake Dunstan. (Image ORC)

Work needs to be done to enable more people, especially the young, the old and the disabled to use the lake, to control lagarosiphon choking popular swimming and fishing spots (the aquatic pest, he says, was recognised as being a factor in a drowning at Bannocknurn Inlet in 2016), and to better manage freedom camping and public reserve land on the lake’s edge, he says.

Last week, the Guardians launched a campaign to encourage the community to help develop a vision for the lake.

“We want to know what they like, dislike and suggest for the lake.

“It might be that they like that they can drive their cars to the lake edge, or they might like that the lake isn’t too busy. They might dislike freedom campers or they might suggest that they would like an inflatable water park.”

 Just 48 hours into the campaign, more than 50 people have made submissions, he says.

It’s online, it’s quick and easy, and they’ll be signs down at the lake over summer to prompt people to have a say.

“Over the summer, when you’re down at the lake boating, walking or picnicking or whatever you’re doing, pull out your phone, hit the link and report.”

Got something to add to the conversation? Click here.

Main image (credit Kim Bowden): Lake Dunstan from the Cromwell lookout.

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