Introducing our work programme - Water management.

New Zealanders rely on water for our health, our economy, and our lifestyle. For Māori, water is an important spiritual and cultural resource that is regarded as a taonga. The oceans that surround us and our lakes and rivers are a strong part of our landscape and identity. They are vitally important to our health and our economy, we enjoy them in our recreational pursuits, they support our biodiversity, and they form part of our international appeal.

We will consider how well organisations are carrying out their water management responsibilities, to understand how New Zealand is positioned for the future.

It is essential that water resources are well managed. The way we are living and how we are meeting our economic and social aspirations are affecting this critical natural resource. An increasing population, the way we produce our food, how and where we live, ageing infrastructure, and climate change effects are just some of the challenges facing public sector organisations1 in carrying out their water management roles and responsibilities.

The last year has included many water management issues, including the Havelock North drinking-water contamination, the flooding of Edgecumbe, and their consequent inquiries. The Government has advanced its "Clean Water" proposals, released reports about the state of the marine environment and freshwater under the Environmental Reporting Act 2015, is reviewing water allocation issues, and has begun a review of "three waters" services – drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater.

Media reports are increasingly focused on New Zealanders' concerns about the state of our water resources and how well they are managed. Water concerns are not the same in all areas, but there has been considerable public interest in topics such as bottling water to sell overseas, the proposed Ruataniwha water storage scheme, the aftermath of flood events, and the "swimmability" of our lakes and rivers.

In deciding to make water management a theme of our work, we were mindful of not duplicating the work of others, such as Local Government New Zealand and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. We do not have a role in commenting on policy decisions, nor do we plan to second-guess the science associated with water management.

What we bring to the topic is the independence that enables us to look at the water management system as a whole – across central and local government and beyond political cycles. We audit many organisations involved in water management – such as the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry for Primary Industries, regional councils, city and district councils, the council-owned companies that manage drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater, district health boards, and the Ministry of Health – and this allows us to draw on our existing knowledge and previous work.

Starting in 2017/18, we will look at water management activity in several organisations, focusing on drinking water, freshwater, stormwater, and the marine environment.

We intend to provide independent assurance to Parliament, the organisations that we audit, and New Zealanders about the state of water management. We will highlight any improvements that are needed in the public management of water and in the accountability and transparency of organisations for their decision-making and performance.

At the end of our work on water management, we will produce a report that draws together our observations and recommendations.

Signature - GS

Greg Schollum
Deputy Controller and Auditor General

19 October 2017

1: We can examine the activities of public sector organisations but not private companies. For simplicity, we refer to "organisations" in this report, instead of always clarifying that we mean public sector organisations.

Photo acknowledgement: Michal Klajban