Part 1: Introduction

Crown investment in freshwater clean-up.

In this Part, we discuss:

The importance of freshwater quality

New Zealanders rightly expect to be able to safely swim in rivers and lakes, maintain cultural relationships with their awa, and collect kai. They also want to know that New Zealand's clean and green image is maintained. In a nationwide poll carried out for Fish and Game New Zealand, which surveyed 1000 New Zealanders, pollution of rivers and lakes was the survey respondents' top concern.1

As a result of human intervention (for example, agriculture and deforestation) combined with the effects of climate change, freshwater quality has come under significant pressure in some places. The Crown contributes significant funding to national freshwater clean-up efforts to restore, improve, and preserve freshwater quality for future generations.

Parliament and the public require any investment in freshwater clean-up to be effective and efficient.

The Ministry for the Environment's role in freshwater clean-up

The mission of the Ministry for the Environment (the Ministry) is "environmental stewardship for a prosperous New Zealand". Its main activities are policy development, commissioning environmental research, and providing advice to the Government and its agencies and public bodies on environmental matters. The Ministry also works with stakeholders to support the implementation of the policies it prepares.

The Ministry also directly administers some funds targeted at improving freshwater quality.

Other central government organisations have responsibility for managing environmental funds, including the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Department of Conservation (DOC).

MPI administers funds such as the Afforestation Grant Scheme, Erosion Control Funding Programme, the Hill Country Erosion Fund, and the One Billion Trees Programme (part of the Provincial Growth Fund).

DOC administers environmental funds, such as Ngā Whenua Rāhui, which provides funding for the protection of biodiversity on Māori-owned land, and the DOC Community Fund, which supports community-led conservation projects on public and private land.

The four freshwater clean-up funds we looked at

We looked at four freshwater clean-up funds managed by the Ministry:

  • Rotorua Te Arawa Lakes Programme;
  • Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund;
  • Te Mana o Te Wai Fund; and
  • Freshwater Improvement Fund.

The Appendix provides an overview of each of the four funds.

We chose projects in Canterbury, Manawatu, and the Rotorua Lakes because they received the largest Crown funding commitment under the freshwater clean-up funds managed by the Ministry.

In order to provide a different perspective and improve our understanding of common challenges and lessons, we also looked at how the Waikato River Authority (the Authority) manages its freshwater clean-up projects. We do not draw direct comparisons between the Ministry and the Authority's processes because both operate differently, including their governance arrangements and the geographical areas for which they are responsible. Instead, we considered the challenges and lessons they have in common and looked at differences in approach to help us better understand and share good practice.

To help distinguish between our findings on work of the Ministry and the perspective we gained by looking at the Authority's work, information that relates to the Authority is presented in text boxes throughout this report (as follows).

The Waikato River Authority's approach

The Waikato River Authority (the Authority) is a small, statutorily independent public organisation. It receives annual Crown funding to cover its operating costs ($910,000 in 2017 and in 2018). The Authority was set up in November 2010 under section 22(1) of the Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Act 2010 (the Act) and section 23(1) of the Ngāti Tuwharetoa, Raukawa, and Te Arawa River Iwi Waikato River Act 2010.

The Act creates a co-governance and co-management framework between the Crown and river iwi. The Authority's purpose is to co-ordinate the clean-up, and protect the health and well-being, of the Waikato River for future generations.

Under the Act, the Authority receives $220 million in contestable clean-up funding over 30 years. The Authority runs an annual contestable funding round and specifies the criteria and types of projects it seeks to fund in its annual Waikato River Clean-up Trust Funding Strategy. The Waikato River Clean-up Trust is the funding arm of the Authority. The Authority specifies the amount it will contribute to annual project funding and works with other organisations and individuals for additional co-funding.

The scope and focus for our audit

The Ministry does not currently measure improvements in freshwater quality as a result of clean-up initiatives. This is because of "lag times" – the complexity of accurately attributing improvements to specific projects and the significant time it takes to realise improvements.

This makes it difficult for freshwater clean-up funders to assess the effect of specific clean-up projects. Instead, freshwater clean-up funders usually measure improvements by outputs (for example, how many kilometres of fencing completed or the number of trees planted).

However, Parliament and the public need assurance that any investment in freshwater clean-up is contributing to improved water quality. Although this report is limited to reviewing the effective allocation and monitoring of the Ministry's freshwater clean-up funds, we wanted to provide some assurance about the Ministry's performance in this matter.

We looked at the Ministry's management of four Crown funds for improving lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. Collectively, these four funds provide more than $190 million of investment from 2008 to 2032.

For each Crown fund, we looked at whether the Ministry could demonstrate that:

  • it effectively administers Crown funds;
  • rigorous project selection processes were applied; and
  • effective monitoring processes were implemented during a project's funded term.

To help us to draw conclusions and make recommendations, we considered:

  • the outcomes each fund aimed to achieve;
  • whether projects addressed specific areas or whole catchments; and
  • whether an approach collaborated with a range of stakeholders (including communities and iwi).

We were not able to assess the effect of the individual projects we looked at.

How we carried out our audit

We reviewed more than 600 documents, including:

  • Cabinet papers;
  • funding applications;
  • funding deeds;
  • strategy group papers;
  • briefings to Ministers;
  • due diligence documents; and
  • project reports.

We interviewed a range of staff from throughout the Ministry (including freshwater investment, legal, finance, science, and strategy staff) to help us understand the project management, reporting, and monitoring processes applied to funded projects.

We also interviewed individual project staff, including staff from Environment Canterbury and Horizons, Bay of Plenty, and Waikato Regional Councils.

We talked to individual project managers, community members, and iwi staff and volunteers from these regions.

We visited some of the project clean-up sites to get a better understanding of the areas.

Structure of our report

In Part 2, we describe some of the freshwater clean-up projects we saw during our fieldwork and how they have progressed towards achieving agreed milestones. We also discuss how funded projects reflect good practice for freshwater clean-up.

In Part 3, we discuss the progress of the Ministry's administration of the four funds we looked at and identify areas for further improvement.

1: See Water pollution is now New Zealanders' Number One Concern at