A new government report on freshwater management highlights yet again the delicate path that regional authorities must tread in balancing environmental, economic and iwi aspirations for some of the most beautiful, productive and culturally significant parts of our country.
It also raises the issue of how effective collaborative processes are for councils engaging on the many resultant challenges with local ratepayers, iwi, businesses and entire communities.
The Ministry for the Environment released its Next Steps for Fresh Water consultation document just days before the recent annual Conferenz Freshwater Management and Infrastructure Forum in Wellington.
The report sketches a raft of proposals, suggests specific questions for debate and calls for submissions by Friday April 22.
Speaking at the Conferenz Freshwater Management and Infrastructure Forum, Bell Gully senior associate Natasha Garvan says that, unlike many traditional consultative approaches, collaborative processes enable participants “to have greater control over any compromises”.
Yet when it comes to the future management and allocation of water resources from lakes, rivers, aquifers and wetlands, compromise is often an emotionally loaded topic.
Natasha says there’s considerable diversity in the way collaborative processes are managed throughout the country.
The number of local authorities adopting a collaborative approach has increased in recent times. Examples include local bodies in Canterbury, Wellington and the Waikato.
Sharing feedback from a variety of un-named collaborative process participants throughout the country, Natasha told forum delegates that one national player had commented on the lack of a nationally-consistent approach.
“They’re operating in multiple catchments around the country,” she says, “and they found this [lack of consistency] slightly ironic.”
She says this player had been expecting greater consistency in how councils applied and implemented the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 – which sets out the objectives and policies for freshwater management under the Resource Management Act 1991 – and felt that hadn’t occurred.
“There is variable quality of processes around the country. Their feeling was we need some national guidance on collaborative processes.”
Summary of key proposals
Ministry for the Environment’s ‘Next Steps for Fresh Water’ consultation document.
Fresh water and our environment
Amend the NPS-FM to improve direction on:
• exceptions to national bottom lines for catchments with significant infrastructure
• using the macroinvertebrate community index as a mandatory monitoring method
• applying water quality attributes to intermittently closing and opening lakes and lagoons
• what it means to ‘maintain or improve overall water quality’.
Exclude stock from water bodies through regulation.
Economic use of fresh water
Require more efficient use of fresh water and good management practice.
Iwi rights and interests in fresh water
Strengthen te mana o te wai as the underpinning platform for community discussions on fresh water.
Improve iwi / hapu participation in freshwater governance and management.
Better integrate water conservation orders (WCOs) with regional water planning and allow for increased iwi participation and decision-making on WCOs.
Set up the ‘Next Steps for Freshwater Improvement Fund’.
NZ Local Government Magazine is providing more coverage of this topic in its upcoming April 2016 print issue.