Appendix 3: About the Te Waihora Co-Governance Agreement

Principles for effectively co-governing natural resources.

Type of arrangement

The Te Waihora Co-governance Agreement is a voluntary co-governance arrangement.


Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) is the largest lake in Canterbury and is an important link in the chain of coastal lagoons and estuaries along the South Island's east coast.

The lake and surrounds form an internationally significant wetland for wildlife that supports rich flora and fauna. Te Waihora also has outstanding significance for Ngāi Tahu as a tribal taonga, representing a major mahinga kai and an important source of mana.

The lake shore margins support the largest area of contiguous wetland habitat in the lowlands of the eastern South Island. The lake's catchment includes:

  • the foothills that feed the Selwyn River;
  • groundwater aquifers of the Canterbury Plains between the Waimakariri and Rakaia rivers, which surface as springs feeding the lowland streams entering Te Waihora; and
  • hill-fed catchments of the north-western edge of Banks Peninsula.

Land-use changes and clearing of wetlands have sped up the worsening of the lake's water quality. The 2010 Lake Water Quality Report by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) rated Te Waihora as having the worst nutrient status of 140 lakes measured.


Our lake was our backyard, it was our livelihood – we live and breathe the place.

In 1991, the Te Waihora Management Board was formed to advise the Ngāi Tahu Māori Trust Board on the Ngāi Tahu claim aspects that related to Te Waihora. It represents the six Papatipu Rūnanga of mid-Canterbury who have interests in Te Waihora.

In 1998, ownership of Te Waihora lakebed was returned to Ngāi Tahu as part of the Treaty of Waitangi Deed of Settlement, along with specific planning and bylaw-making powers.

The Te Waihora Management Board then worked with the Department of Conservation on a joint management plan for the lakebed and surrounding land that the Department of Conservation administers. Ngāi Tahu was also thinking about what next and looking for a closer relationship with Canterbury Regional Council. In 2009, the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) process provided the next opportunity for thinking about a relationship. Said one participant: "The seed [for co-governance] was planted in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy".

The CWMS has 10 target areas, with one of the target areas being about Kaitiakitanga. Under Kaitiakitanga, the CWMS recorded co-governance of Te Waihora catchment as a specific goal. The strategy sought to achieve, by 2015:

A formal co-governance arrangement (developed in partnership by Ngāi Tahu, the Crown, and Canterbury local government) for the active management of Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) and its catchment.

One participant described this time as:

… an interesting process, and it brought to the fore "what did it mean to be a Treaty partner?"

At the time of the consultation with the Rūnanga on the CWMS, Ngāi Tahu expressed frustration about a conservation order on Te Waihora for opening the lake. The conservation order recognised outstanding wildlife but not fish, because fish are not defined as wildlife. It also did not recognise the presence of outstanding tribal significance because the order was granted before the Resource Management Act 1991 was passed. Ngāi Tahu and the regional council agreed that the parties had to look at amending the order, so that the importance of the fishery and the significance of Te Waihora to Ngāi Tahu could be recognised.

Commissioners replace councillors

In 2010, commissioners replaced Canterbury Regional Council councillors. One interviewee told us that this is when the relationship began to change.

The Minister for the Environment, in his letter of expectation to the commissioners, stated that they had to develop the relationship with Ngāi Tahu. As part of this, Ngāi Tahu nominated one of their own as a commissioner. One Ngāi Tahu representative told us: "This action was a little step for Canterbury, but a huge step for Ngāi Tahu."

Not long after starting, all the commissioners went to talk to the Kaiwhakahaere (chairperson) of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu. The discussion focused on how Ngāi Tahu and the commissioners would work together. Te Waihora was the first area that was brought to the commissioners' attention.

The commissioners went on a bus tour of the Te Waihora catchment. They met members of the Te Waihora Management Board, and the Board said it wanted to develop co-governance "sooner rather than later". The commissioners agreed. Canterbury Regional Council staff were asked to prepare an agreement.

On 25 August 2011, the Te Waihora Management Board (representing Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu) and Canterbury Regional Council signed an agreement of intent. This agreement signalled a shared commitment to exploring a co-governance model for the restoration and rejuvenation of the mauri and ecosystem of Te Waihora.

Whakaora Te Waihora funding

At the same time as signing the agreement of intent, Ngāi Tahu and the regional council jointly contracted with the Crown to a cultural and ecological restoration programme for Te Waihora, known as Te Whakaora Te Waihora. Whakaora means "to save, rescue, resuscitate, revive, restore to health, cure, and heal". The regional council was awarded $6 million from the Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund towards the restoration and rejuvenation of the mauri and ecosystem health of Te Waihora. The Crown's investment leveraged funding from other parties for a total investment of $11.6 million towards cleaning the lake.

The funding was an incentive to prepare a co-governance agreement. The commissioners told us that the Minister had indicated that funding could be put towards the lake, which made it possible, and necessary, to work out a relationship:

The relationship was focused around the management of the money. We might not have got into that relationship if the Government had not come up with the funding.

After the August agreement of intent, the co-governance meetings were largely centred on what the co-governance framework would look like. The process took about a year, "which is reasonably fast" for these types of arrangements. During that time, a joint restoration plan was signed by the two parties on 9 December 2011.

On 23 November 2012, the Te Waihora Management Board and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Canterbury Regional Council signed a co-governance agreement:

So the [Ministry for the Environment] funding was the catalyst but also to be fair, another catalyst was the commissioners.

It was clear to all the people we interviewed that without the commissioners, the relationship between the Rūnanga and Canterbury Regional Council would have been less positive. "The commissioners meant that the relationship changed from the worst relationship to the best relationship". The commissioners had been surprised by the lack of a relationship between Canterbury Regional Council and iwi in a post-settlement region. The chairperson, in particular, was determined to set up a positive relationship. It was not just her, "but it was quite clear, it was her agenda … Under her watch, it [the relationship] was going to be fixed".


The commissioners wanted an arrangement that recognised the imperative of fixing the lake, while building and strengthening a relationship with Ngāi Tahu. Both parties sought an arrangement that recognised Ngāi Tahu's ownership of the lake bed and customary rights and responsibilities that go with that ownership. The Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998 included provision for Ngāi Tahu to have planning powers and other powers to make bylaws for the lake bed. The arrangement had to take into account the regulatory framework − Canterbury Regional Council's statutory responsibilities under the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Local Government Act 2002, which require Canterbury Regional Council to manage the catchment well.

An example of co-governance was when the parties jointly applied to Canterbury Regional Council for resource consents to open and close Te Waihora. Before 2014, the authority to consent to the opening of the lake was held by just Canterbury Regional Council, and was primarily used for flood management purposes. The parties wanted the consent process to include recognition of Ngāi Tahu’s ownership of the lake bed and its cultural values, consistent with the National Water Conservation (Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere) Order 1990. The application was granted and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and Canterbury Regional Council jointly hold the resource consents to open and/or close Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere to the sea.

The parties considered this a matter of significance. A hearing was held over three days to amend the authority. Another significant symbol was that Canterbury Regional Council and Ngāi Tahu jointly applied for the resource consents.


The Te Waihora co-governance group comprises four commissioners from Canterbury Regional Council, five members from Ngāi Tahu, including the Kaiwhakahaere of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, and the Mayor of Selwyn District Council. The Kaiwhakahaere of Ngāi Tahu and the chairperson of Canterbury Regional Council are the group's co-chairpersons.


The Te Waihora partners have to deliver on their contract with the Ministry for the Environment for the Whakaora Te Waihora restoration project. Each year, they have to carry out a work programme. Every month, they report financial and other information to the Ministry for the Environment. Canterbury Regional Council also reports on the Whakaora te Waihora project in its annual report. The Ministry for the Environment's participation in the steering group provides further oversight.

The commissioners are aware of their accountability for taxpayers' money. Canterbury Regional Council's audit committee closely monitors the project and receives regular reports about spending on it.


The commissioners told us that they had to limit further nitrate and phosphorus loss from the catchment that drains into the lake. The main problem in the catchment is nitrate loss. In 2012, the commissioners put temporary limits in place. By May 2015, they had almost completed a process that will see those temporary limits replaced by limits that are specific to the Waihora catchment and based on Selwyn Waihora Zone Committee recommendations. The commissioners noted that they intend to work with farmers on preparing more environment and management plans.

The Ministry for the Environment records progress on the Whakaora te Waihora project. The April 2015 update on the Ministry's website reported:

  • more than 200,000 native plants had been planted;
  • spraying of 100 hectares of grey willow using both ground and aerial methods;
  • spraying of all known sites of reed canary grass around the lakeshore;
  • completion of about 36 kilometres of waterway re-battering work;
  • completion of erosion control works on the Kaituna River;
  • holding of five farm environmental plan workshops;
  • completion of 53 farm environmental plans;
  • fencing of lengths of the Kaituna and Huritini/Halswell catchments to keep stock out;
  • monthly water monitoring with two new monitoring stations that will provide continuous data every two to three hours;
  • monitoring of important mahinga kai (yellowbelly flounder, shortfin eel, and longfin eel);
  • a sediment survey at 18 sites; and
  • science investigations, including:
    • Mahinga Kai Bio Health;
    • two NIWA/University of Canterbury reports on lake opening sites, the feasibility of deepening in-lake channels, and possibilities for an engineered lake level;
    • the trial re-establishment of macrophyte beds, with more than 3000 macrophyte plants now growing at the macrophyte culture facility at Taumutu;
    • investigations into in-lake nutrient processing and nutrient attenuation; and
    • investigations into fish re-stocking and a review of fisheries management.

The commissioners admitted that work remains to be done to achieve the environmental goals. Several people told us that, although it would take 20 to 30 years before the lake stops deteriorating − because it takes a long time to repair environmental damage, the community was starting to understand this. Over time, the community should start to see improved ecosystems, improved water quality, and species revival.

The parties thought that the success of the agreement should also be acknowledged:

You'll see, in a sense, that the success in this will not be about the relationship between Ngāi Tahu and ECan [Canterbury Regional Council] and how that plays out in a formal arrangement. The success will be about the way it motivates and inspires other parts of local government to work, and improve the quality of their relationship, with Ngāi Tahu. And I'm seeing signs of that happening now.