Lake Snow funding under microscope

Photo: Lake Wanaka 29 May 2017. Nikki Heath / Wanaka Sun

Pressure is mounting on local bodies to do more to tackle invasive weeds and algae in Lakes Wanaka and Hawea, as reasons for previous lack of funding begin to emerge.

University of Otago Research Fellow and freshwater scientist Dr Marc Schallenberg, who has been vocal on the issue of lake snow in the region’s lakes for some time, identified the need for more information on lake snow and the algae species Lindavia Intermedia responsible for creating it at a public meeting earlier this year in Wanaka.

“Changes are happening in these lakes and more and more robust information on the lakes is needed. It’s a complex problem and we need high quality monitoring data to allow sensitive changes to be detected,” Dr Schallenberg said.

“Samples collected from outflow monitoring that has been done in these lakes so far is inadequate to analyse any trends. Better lake monitoring is possible to collect fantastic data and these lakes are worth monitoring.”

Dr Schallenberg highlighted that he previously had several applications for funding to research lake snow turned down including one by Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) in 2012, one by the Otago Regional Council (ORC) in 2015 and one for $78,000 spread over two years to study lake snow by the University of Otago’s research committee in 2015.

The university’s research committee also declined a proposal by both Dr Schallenberg and Dr Travis Ingram for $30,000 annually to study lake snow.

The university’s deputy vice chancellor research and enterprise professor Richard Blaikie told the Wanaka Sun that the research committee does not publicly release feedback on individual applications for research funding so as to preserve the ability for “free and frank discussion” to take place surrounding applications.

“In most cases funding is not awarded purely because there are more fundable projects submitted than funding available. Because requests for funding far outweigh the available funding (in 2016 the ratio was 2:1), applications are therefore ranked to determine which applications will be funded,” Professor Blaikie said.

“The research committee receives over 200 research grant applications each year and in the years that Marc’s applications were received, he fell outside the funding category.”

Professor Blaikie said that the panel assesses each application against criteria which includes the objectives of the research, how the research method has been designed and the proposed method of execution, the personnel involved and their experience, the novelty of the proposal and whether this has already been tried before, and what long term outcome will result from the research.

In regards to Dr Schallenberg’s declined application to QLDC in 2012 for $46,000 to study lake snow in Lake Wanaka for one year, QLDC’s records manager Barbara East said that no documentation in relation to the proposal could be located.

“We note that water quality management is a function of the Otago Regional Council. Council has been asked to consider funding in its draft annual plan round by the Upper Clutha Water Group and we have recently pledged support to the University of Otago who are applying for funding for a major research project to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE),” Barbara said.

ORC communications team leader Mark Peart said that Dr Schallenberg’s request for co-funding in 2015 to support a research proposal to MBIE to study lakes throughout the country was declined as it arrived too close to the application deadline.

Mark added that it had nothing to do with the merits of his proposal but the ORC was unable to consider it in time.

Last year, the ORC provided around $30,000 to Phil Novis of Landcare Research’s genetics work on the lake snow organism, with the total amount committed to the investigation and management of the effects of lake snow by the council currently sitting at $112,000.

The University of Otago’s research committee also granted $27,000 in March for a year’s worth of research into lake snow by Dr Schallenberg and Dr Ingram.

The University of Otago and Catchments Otago have submitted a proposal to the MBIE endeavour fund in collaboration with stakeholders, including QLDC and ORC, and other research organisations to gather scientific knowledge and understanding of lake snow.

The ORC’s technical committee met in March and were presented with the findings of a lake snow workshop held late last year, deciding that a “substantial proportion” of the Catchments Otago proposal aligns directly with the research priorities outlined during the workshop and would be the most effective way of delivering much of the priority research.

The outcome of the MBIE proposal will be known in September.

Photo:  Lake Wanaka 29 May 2017.  Nikki Heath / Wanaka Sun

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