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The Touchstone Project

With Aspiring Environmental we are delighted to launch The Touchstone Project with seed funding from The Sargood Bequest,  combined with our 2016 event contribution via eVentGift. The first phase of the project can now be instigated. Phase One will provide the opportunity to start a community conversation on a topic dear  to many hearts. Water.

Click for Touchstone website

The Wanaka community and the visiting lake users know that the lake is a direct driver of Wanaka’s economy and vital to its environmental image, however to date there has been little opportunity provided for local people to become directly involved in the Lakes management and therefore actively influence its future. The Touchstone Project represents the first practical opportunity for the Lakes community to become engaged in actively managing their lake. Numerous members of the Wanaka community, both rural and urban have raised concerns about the lakes present and future water quality and ecology. This project represents an opportunity for people to become actively engaged in their environments management.


By establishing a community collaborative project focussed on the lake environment, the Touchstone Project will work to manage and protect iconic lakes in the South Island of New Zealand. Lake Wanaka will be used as its first project.


Ruby Events are undertaking this via a startup called eVentGift. eVentGift aims to provide an ongoing channel (a system) for event organisers and competitors to contribute to something ‘of worth’ at a localised level, for the local community where the event is held. Social benefits to the community need to be considered, as generally speaking, event organisers do not always consider benefits for the community the event takes place within - the underlying infrastructure and its intrinsic ‘sense of community’ within which the event operates. eVentGift aims to remind all event organisers to make such provisions ‘as designed’. To be an intrinsic part of their event.

Even those events that do provide a wider community benefit do not easily provide a visible feedback loop so everyone can see and monitor progress on the project they have contributed too. eVentGift aims to provide the platform for that vital aspect. The Ruby Swim’s ‘designed-in’ ‘for social good' mechanism is to be part of a lake water purity project and The Touchstone Project will be it.




Project Phases

Year One is about establishing a story, as told by community.


The project will have three initial phases. (Currently we only have funding for Phase One):


Phase One - Build the Team.

Gather a group of interests and build collaboration - the key to establishing momentum is getting the right people in the room.


Seminars and meetings about the lake's water quality or ecology have occurred already, however few have led to actions that collaboratively manage the lake. This phase will initiate a facilitated workshop with local people and key decision drivers to focus interests on important issues the community wants investigated. These projects will be about action.

The workshop will examine the value sets that local people want to protect into the future, that link to the lakes image, its water quality and ecology. Key interests to engage include iwi, tourism, multisport uses, Lake Wanaka Guardians, local community representatives, environmental groups and farming and urban interests.

If this project is to learn anything from past environmental projects (ref. Lake Taupo Protection Trust) the key to establishing momentum is getting the right people in the room. Chris Arbuckle (Aspiring Environmental) has held numerous stakeholder, technical workshops including working with the Land and Water Forum, a national collaborative process. He spent his early childhood in the catchment and has returned every year since for holidays. He will help frame the workshop and attract contributors.


This phase also needs excellent facilitation skills. These will be provided by Erica Van Reenen (AgFirst). Erica was born in Wanaka, has worked in environmental and rural advice roles and in Government. A key interest she has is encouraging environmental action on farm and in rural environments.



The next two Phases will occur with additional funding.


Phase Two - Showcase the Lake.


Along with the collaborative workshop we will build a project website that discusses the priorities, issues and action community may take and projects that may help. Summarise information on the lake and provide a direct link to interest pieces on water quality and environmental projects. Share stories and build interaction on key topics, issues of concern and look to community input. Community can have say in what they see as important.

This may include sponsorship and start to utilise eVentGift funding to showcase to the sporting community the opportunity to “get involved”. By using professional web design, providing links to interest pieces, engaging youth in its development and summarise a current state of knowledge on the Lake, we will provide a window on the Lake.


Phase One and Two set a scene to start to tell a story. Unlike consultative processes other organisations have used; it will not try to assume it can find the answers without direct and interactive community participation.


Phase Three - Seeing is doing

Community water quality project.


This project will shape public understanding of the challenges to the lakes environment and water quality. Build community will and understanding by completing a brief project.

While large Iconic Lakes in New Zealand have been under monitored and poorly studied they remain hugely valued by their communities and New Zealand Inc. However a Ministry for the Environment Report, Lake Water Quality in New Zealand 2010: Status and Trends, reported that nationally large Oligotrophic Lakes (e.g. Wanaka and Wakatipu) have declining water quality. Locally Otago has a paucity of information on its iconic lakes that can be reported and compared with other lakes at a national scale. Both Lake Wanaka and Wakatipu only have one lake monitoring site measured regularly, both located at the outflows of the lakes.

While this monitoring is considered fit for purpose by the Regional Council, it’s possibly not adequate to meet community expectations, especially localised water quality issues with bays and inlets.



What’s happening around the lakes locally?


Otago Regional Council

The Otago Regional Council (ORC) monitor recreational water quality at Roys Bay and Lake Trophic State (periodically) and water quality at the lake out flow and water quality in the Matukituki River at West Wanaka. The ORC has produced several monitoring reports throughout the past 10 years, including a comprehensive SOE Water Quality Report on 2007 and 2012 and a report on the Trophic Status of selected Otago’s lakes in 2009. Several catchment specific reports have also been completed. There is also a Lagarosiphon (lake weed) management for Lake Wanaka plan due for review in 2015/16.

In 2014 an Environmental modelling project was started in the Matukituki Valley to measure nutrient loss from high country pastures and fodder crops. This project is in a funding partnership with the Ministry for the Environment and is working with Overseer Management Services Ltd. The project was a result of Plan Change 6A mediation with Lakes Landcare farmers.


The Guardians of Lake Wanaka

The Lake Preservation Act 1973 defines the Guardians’ responsibilities. These include the maintenance and improvement of water quality, protection of the shoreline and matters associated with the use of the lake for recreation. In 2013 the Guardians held a symposium on the Lake - Lake Wanaka for better or worse? Planning for the future of Lake Wanaka. The Symposium highlighted a number of concerns with the Lakes future management including a lack of long term monitoring.


Lakes Landcare and Beef & Lamb

There is an established farm based environmental project underway in the catchment – the Beef & Lamb Lakes Project which is engaging high country stations and Lake side catchment farmers on environmental management issues and options4. This project was developed by Aspiring Environmental and Beef and Lamb as an environmental extension project working with Lakes Landcare. The long term aim of this project is about supporting farmers to advance on environmental management, this will help in mitigating land use effects at a farm to catchment scale for the Lake. It also helps farmers in meeting and performing to environmental limits set by government.


Other opportunities.

However, there is no current focus on the urban influences on Lake Wanaka and the Touchstone Project could look to initiate a comparable urban study.


For example; Storm water drains have been shown as major drivers of water quality issues throughout NZ urban areas. Roys Bay has numerous drains entering the bay. These have already been mapped by Aspiring Environmental and a selection could be sampled to examine the level of contamination in the run off from the urban catchment. Key questions about contamination sources and clearance times could be asked throughout the project. This information could be referenced to the Otago Regional Council contact recreation monitoring of Roy’s Bay. This monitoring already indicates significant rainfall runoff into the bay and bacterial contamination of the bays water. This contamination may reside in the water in the bay post rain events long enough to cause water quality concerns for multisport events and recreational swimming. This has specific interest for the hosts of the Ruby Island Swim, and swim sports interest.


A concise Before and After Control and Impact study could help the community track issues that affect the short term water quality of the bay. Such projects elsewhere have been conducted by secondary school children or university students. A Yr 12/13 Aspiring College Student / Science study/project (Mentored by Aspiring Environmental / or University of Otago) could be established in 2016.


An integrated aim could be a shared understanding of “our” effects on the Lake. At present there is a noticeable gap between the urban and rural Wanaka communities and the Touchstone Project is aimed at building bridges of knowledge and shared understanding to bridge such gaps.



Learning from others.

The core environmental threats to Lake Wanaka and Wakatipu are no different to what’s seen elsewhere in New Zealand or world-wide. Lake based protection programmes focus on effects humans cause.


For example the Lake Taupo Protection Trust was set up in February 2007 to administer the $81.5 million government fund to protect Lake Taupo's excellent water quality, which is under threat from the effects of past and current land use activities. The Trust is charged with developing a programme of work that will reduce the amount of manageable nitrogen leaching into the lake by 20 per cent. For Lake Taupo nitrogen was a key factor in water quality decline and was attributable to bother farm land use losses and urban sources.


The trust uses government funds to encourage and assist land use change, to purchase land/nitrogen in the Lake Taupo catchment and to fund any other initiatives that assist the land owner to reduce the nitrogen impact of their activities on Lake Taupo. The Trust reports to the Government (MfE), Ngati Tuwharetoa, the Taupo District Council, and Waikato Regional Council.


Outcome: Community projects need a test of cohesive effort. The Touchstone Project is about doing, learning, seeing, touching and communicating.



What’s different about Lake Wanaka and Wakatipu?

In short, nothing but time. Lake Taupo is an example of a lake clean-up project. Hugely costly to community and country. All actions happened after the effect was seen and as such have been more costly to remedy. Lake Wanaka and Wakatipu can learn from that. Both Lakes are at a stage where their water quality is still poorly understood and more projects understanding the drivers of contamination will not only advance community understanding, but help stay issues such as water quality decline.


The key driver of the Touchstone Project is to future proof the Queenstown / Wanaka Lakes environment from change that is occurring now and what’s occurred in the past which is yet to truly manifest in the Lakes.

While the Otago Regional Council have placed water quality policies in legislation; it is only action by people on the ground that implement these policies and in turn maintain or improve water quality. To date ORC have no published implementation plan or showed a great deal of action with community.


As a result of national and local legislation, but more so community interest, there is a huge opportunity to provide an increased focus on the actions the community whom live by the Lakes can take to manage their lakes. The key to this is understanding their local values and what they see as the well-being of the Lakes.


Touchstones key focus is not to be complacent and let these lakes decline without initiating practical environmental action. By engaging community on their concerns and validating peoples “gut feel” we can establish a focus on managing the lakes future at a community scale.



Once momentum is established in Wanaka and the local lakes community understands how they can influence the future of their lake, more effort can be applied to engaging funding streams and looking to other lakes projects. There are many different collaborative engagement models, but those that succeed invest ownership in local community. Therefore few are similar in process as every community is different. We are sure Lake Wakatipu, Te Anau, and larger Canterbury Lakes could use an approach like Touchstone.


We expect challenges with funding and environmental projects are costly. However by combining innovative funding streams we feel we can build momentum, interest and action and attract external investment in the longer term.




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