Environment Canterbury (ECan) is taking an innovative community-led approach to environmentally-sustainable water management.
Allowing the community to drive change has turned the traditional planning-led model on its head. People from 10 zone committees made up of community members and runanga representatives along with local and regional council representatives have been working to identify priorities and actions for their waterways.
Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) programme director Christina Robb sees local knowledge as the key to collaborative water management.
“We’re tapping into the passion, knowledge and innovation that local communities have. They know their waterways really well. They live by them, connect with them and drive over them on a daily basis. We’re using that energy to drive the process.”
Ten collaboratively developed target areas help the zone committees to focus on achieving specific goals. These targets cover: recreational and amenity opportunities, drinking water, regional and national economies, natural character of braided rivers, irrigated land area, kaitiakitanga, environmental limits, energy security and efficiency, ecosystem health and biodiversity, and water-use efficiency.
Christina says that moving forward on all the targets at once is vital and this gives committees clarity about what they’re working towards.
“It’s vital to give attention to all 10 target areas to ensure that the solutions are advanced in parallel. The committees work together to make sure that they focus on both the short-term and long-term targets.”
Each committee meets monthly to progress towards the targets and to come up with local solutions to water-related issues. The meetings are open to everyone and members of the wider community and media regularly attend.
Committee members come from a wide range of backgrounds and include farmers, environmentalists, scientists and researchers. Ensuring that committee members can work with others who share different viewpoints is crucial to the success of the strategy.
“They must cover a range of interests and have to come from all over the zone. The most important aspect, which they are actually tested on during the selection process, is their ability to work collaboratively and understand other people’s point of view.”
Being the voice of the community and exploring issues, progress and solutions first-hand is another important role for committee members.
“They need to seek the views of the community so that when their recommendations go back to the council they’re endorsed by the community. They have a very strong role in finding out what people are thinking, what people want to see happening and engaging with the community around water management.”
Christina says the zone committees have been fortunate to have such a strong mandate from the regional and district councils and Ngai Tahu which has allowed them to make good progress towards achieving targets at a local and regional level.
“The Environment Canterbury commissioners have said to the zone committees if they reach a consensus on any planning recommendations they’ll adopt it as the starting position for preparing a plan and putting that through the Resource Management Act process. That’s been really powerful in terms of the zone committees feeling that they have a real mandate and that their recommendations will be acted on.”
Time for change
The Canterbury Water Management Strategy was signed by the Canterbury Mayoral Forum in 2009 following 20 years of intense land-use change which had increased pressure on Canterbury’s rivers and aquifer systems. Public concern was mounting over deteriorating water quality while primary producers were calling for more water to be made available for irrigation.
The Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) is a partnership between Environment Canterbury, district and city councils, Ngai Tahu and water stakeholders.
Its vision is to enable present and future generations to gain the greatest social, economic, recreational and cultural benefits from our water resource within an environmentally sustainable framework.
Community action transforms Waikakahi Stream
Fencing and riparian planting along with over 20 years work by the local community has transformed Waikakahi Stream near Glenavy from a muddy bog into a pristine waterway.
In the 1990s local farmer Chris Paul decided to take action to clean up the stream. He organised a joint public meeting with Environment Canterbury which resulted in the formation of working groups.
Farmers, community members, Glenavy school pupils, Fish and Game, and Environment Canterbury staff joined forces to take water quality samples and carry out fish and bird counts.
Over two decades later the project is still very much alive with Lower Waitaki – South Coastal Canterbury Zone Committee chair Kate White describing it as a perfect example of what can be achieved when a community works collaboratively.
Right from the first meeting everyone worked together to decide what needed to be done. At the next meeting held six months later one farmer hadn’t done his fencing so he turned around and did it overnight.
Kate says she has noticed a huge change in the stream, which reflects years of hard work by the group. She credits the combination of riparian planting, fencing, stock exclusion and silt traps with transforming the stream into a crystal clear waterway.
In the beginning there was no fencing, areas of bog, no defined stream edge and stock were grazing in the stream. That’s all changed. The stream has recovered over the past five years with the growth of riparian planting and trout coming back.
Cawthron Institute freshwater ecologist Robin Holmes, who began studying the stream in 2012, says his results highlight the importance of fencing and riparian planting.
The study found that 300 metres downstream from the fencing there was a reduced amount of deposited sediment which is vital for improving stream habitat. Fencing is the most important feature and it needs to be three to five metres back from the stream edge.
Robin also found good populations of trout, eels and bullies in the stream which he attributes to the long-term rehabilitation work.
He hopes to secure government funding for further studies on the stream which would also be supported by the zone committee.
This article was first published in the August 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.