Part 1: Introduction

Horizons and Otago Regional Councils: Management of freshwater resources.

Why did we do this audit?

In October 2003, we began a comprehensive scoping review of the implementation of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) in order to identify areas for potential audits.

Our review established that freshwater1 management was an area of interest for most agencies that we consulted. It also is one of the nation’s most significant current environmental issues.

The RMA provides the framework for freshwater management, and regional councils have responsibility for implementing the framework.

In addition to these aspects, we considered that an audit of local government monitoring activities was timely.

Purpose of our audit

The purpose of our audit was to:

  • report to Parliament on the freshwater management frameworks in place in 2 regional councils;
  • assess whether the selected 2 regional councils have prepared planning documents that comply with the RMA and are in line with our expectations;
  • assess whether the selected 2 regional councils are implementing the policies and methods outlined in their RMA planning documents;
  • review the monitoring activities undertaken by the selected 2 regional councils, and action in response to monitoring; and
  • identify examples of good practice by the selected 2 regional councils, or examples of where improvements could be made, that would be useful for all regional councils.

Why we chose Horizons Regional Council and Otago Regional Council

Because of its broad and complex nature, we limited our audit to 2 regional councils – Horizons Regional Council2 and Otago Regional Council.

The 2 councils were selected – not because of any particular performance issues, but because we aimed to identify councils where our audit findings would be the most transferable to the greatest number of councils.

For this reason, we selected councils that had regional plans in place for water management, water allocation issues, and water quality pressures from increased agricultural land use. Details of the selected 2 regions and their communities are discussed in paragraphs 3.1-3.34.

Our key findings were similar for both the Horizons and Otago Regional Councils. We consider that the key messages we have drawn from these findings are transferable to other regional councils.

How did we carry out our audit?

To assess the management of freshwater resources by the Horizons and Otago Regional Councils, we established audit criteria (or expectations). Our audit criteria are listed in the Appendix.

To establish our audit criteria, we looked at what is required for planning documents to comply with the RMA, and drew on best practice outlined in published guidance material. In particular, we referred to:

  • guidance notes on the Quality Planning;
  • Drafting Issues, Objectives, Policies and Methods in Regional Policy Statements and District Plans, Ministry for the Environment, 2003; and
  • Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans, A Guide to their Purpose, Scope and Content, Hawkes Bay Regional Council, Taranaki Regional Council, Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council, Otago Regional Council and Southland Regional Council, 1998.

We also received input from external advisors, and consulted with planning practitioners. Our external advisors were:

  • Dr Ton Snelder, Natural Resource Engineer, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research;
  • Robert Brodnax, Programme Manager, Land, Water and Waste Policy, Environment Waikato; and
  • Neil Ericksen, Gregory Mason, and Jan Crawford, Planning Under Cooperative Mandates, International Global Change Institute, The University of Waikato.

To assess the selected 2 councils against these criteria, we reviewed council documents and interviewed council staff, councillors, and community stakeholders. The stakeholders we interviewed were:

  • community groups;
  • consent-holders;
  • Department of Conservation;
  • farmers;
  • Federated Farmers of New Zealand;
  • Fish and Game New Zealand;
  • Fonterra Co-operative Group;
  • local iwi; and
  • territorial authorities.4

What our audit did not cover

We did not look at regional council flood protection programmes, or at how local authorities manage the quality and provision of drinking water. While we make references to groundwater throughout the report, we did not look in detail at the management of groundwater in the 2 selected regions.

The Ministry for the Environment also has a role in freshwater management, particularly in the development of National Environmental Standards, National Policy Statements, and environmental performance indicators. We did not audit the performance of the Ministry in this role, nor did we consider the management of freshwater from a national perspective.

1: The term “freshwater” refers to all water except geothermal water and coastal water. Freshwater may be surface water (such as that in rivers, lakes, streams, or wetlands) or groundwater.

2: Horizons Regional Council is the trading name of the Manawatu-Wanganui Regional Council.

3: The purpose of the Quality Planning website is to promote best practice in the development of plans under the Resource Management Act (RMA). The Quality Planning Project is a partnership between the NZ Planning Institute, the Resource Management Law Association, Local Government New Zealand, the NZ Institute of Surveyors and the Ministry for the Environment. The project is funded by the Ministry, which currently owns and administers the website.

4: Territorial authorities are city or district councils.

page top