Lake Horowhenua, one of New Zealand's most polluted lakes, has been given an exemption from some new freshwater standards, angering locals who have been fighting for it to be cleaned up for decades.
The exemption, passed into law this week, means tough new targets to cut nitrogen toxicity will not apply to Lake Horowhenua for the next 10 years. Waterways around Auckland's Pukekohe are also exempt.
The exclusion was made because Horowhenua and Pukekohe are critical vegetable growing areas, proving about 30 per cent of the nation's veges. Imposing the targets would have been difficult for growers to meet without cutting production and threatening national supply.
But one iwi member, whose tribe Muaūpoko owns the lake, said the exemptions were wrong.
Charles Rudd described the lake as the "heart" of his tribe.
"Where we could go and get eels, kākahi, all things whitebait. They are all getting contaminated, polluted," said Mr Rudd.
The Manawatū-Whanganui regional council says the exemption is not a licence to pollute. It plans to help growers reduce their environmental damage over the next 10 years.
The council's CEO, Michael McCartney, said the bottom line is that the lake can't get any more polluted.
Growers in Horowhenua said they are finding new ways to reduce their environmental harm.
Potato and onion grower Chris Pescini said he was using "intercept drains" to keep water in drains so it doesn't go across the paddocks and run off into the lake.
"It's not a licence to chuck fertiliser around and it's too expensive to chuck around. We only use what we have to use," said Mr Pescini.
“This policy will help retain local jobs and businesses but it will also provide an incentive for vegetable growers and other land users to use nitrogen more efficiently, and to explore the use of alternative ways of reducing nutrient discharges,” added Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor.
But locals feel the Government has caved into market gardeners.
"Surely we can grow cabbages in another place. They don't all have to be grown here, especially as this area is a renowned wetland," said Christine Moriarty from the Horowhenua District Ratepayers Association.
The streams feeding the lake are just as bad, clogged with what locals call "celery weed". It's a sign of lots of nitrogen.
Trevor Hinder from the Water Environmental Care Association says the lake would restore itself if pollutants were reduced.
"There are fresh springs out in the lake. There's freshwater going into the lake every day. If we could stop what's going into it by way of pollutants, we've got a chance of improving it," said Mr Hinder.
The Government is spending $11.2 million in Horowhenua to develop a wetland.