Part 4: Water management challenges require adaptive ways of working

In our report Introducing our work programme – water management, we highlighted the challenges associated with managing water, such as legacy issues and responding to change. People are central to these challenges – in particular, the relationship between the Crown and Māori, the relationship between central and local government, and the structure of the public organisations responsible for water management.

Public organisations, government, Māori, businesses, and communities need to work together to address New Zealand's water management challenges:

Across the public sector, there is wide acceptance that complex socio-economic problems can only be solved by multiple agencies – public, private and not-for-profit – combining their resources and expertise. But operating as a network, rather than a traditional public sector hierarchy can prove difficult.25

The main challenge in working together is in striking a balance between competing interests, values, priorities, and mandates, whether when setting strategic priorities, developing policy and regulation, or implementing policy and delivering services.

Balancing different views and values requires flexible frameworks

Public organisations have a variety of approaches to working together and with others. In our work, we paid particular attention to collaborative models of engagement. The work that we did on water management in the marine environment focused on collaboration.

At present, collaborative models are one of the main ways decisions are made in water management, particularly when trade-offs between competing interests, values, and priorities need to be made.

However, there is an inherent tension in running collaborative processes. Public organisations need to carefully consider whether the time and resources needed are likely to deliver the long-term benefits they seek and who is best placed to make decisions when dealing with complex and, at times, incomplete information.

We carried out two pieces of work on the management of the marine environment. One of these considered how two groups used two different processes that generated advice to Ministers for establishing marine protection, including marine reserves.26 The two groups were the South-East Marine Protection Forum – Te Roopu Manaaki ki te Toka (the South-East Forum) and Te Korowai o Te Tai ō Marokura, the Kaikōura Coastal Marine Guardians (Te Korowai).

Decisions to establish marine reserves, in effect, prioritise access to, and use of, parts of the marine environment. Those decisions need to consider and balance the unique circumstances of different areas, including communities, biodiversity values, and social, cultural, and commercial interests.

We were interested in how inclusive, transparent, and well informed these processes were, so we could identify practical lessons for agencies to take note of to improve future marine protection planning.

We looked at this because marine biodiversity protection is a government priority. However, New Zealand's coastal regions have little or no marine protected areas. Only 0.4% of the territorial sea27 has marine reserves.

From our work, we formed the view that there needs to be a more flexible way to balance the views and values of those with an interest in the marine environment than current legislation and policy allows. We have encouraged the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Primary Industries to consider how any reform to marine biodiversity protection legislation, policy, or planning could support greater collaboration between parties.28

Collaboration needs to translate into action

Collaboration does not always translate into public organisations implementing programmes of work that result in improved outcomes for people and the environment. However, our work has shown us that having a clear purpose, clarity about roles and responsibilities, good governance, and timely and efficient processes can offset some of these risks.

In our report Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari: Creating a marine spatial plan for the Hauraki Gulf, we noted that the project was a successful example of a stakeholder-led collaborative approach in many ways. It resulted in a completed plan (albeit over an extended time frame), with general support from those who prepared it.

However, the plan is not easy for the agencies to implement, and those involved in the project are frustrated at the lack of progress in implementing the plan. It is important to allow enough time for collaboration between representatives, so they can effectively discuss, negotiate, and agree on complex issues.

The plan contains more than 180 inter-related recommended actions. The public organisations that have the mandate for delivering these actions are responsible for preparing a Government Response Strategy on how to best deliver the plan's aspirations.

We identified aspects of the Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari project that would have made implementing the plan easier if they had been done better. The agencies were not as involved in developing the marine spatial plan as they could have been. There needed to be a balance between giving the stakeholder-led collaborative group enough independence and the right amount of involvement from the agencies, which might be responsible for large parts of the implementation.

As we note in Part 2 of this report, our work on the Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari project highlights the importance of public organisations considering how they can work with each other and with Māori when developing strategy and plans using a collaborative model. This can support more effective implementation of those plans.

A Ministerial Advisory Committee was appointed in July 2019 tasked with providing expert advice over a 12-month period to help the Government shape its response to the conservation- and fisheries-related proposals in the marine spatial plan for the Hauraki Gulf. It is too early to tell what effect this Committee will be able to have.29

More can be done to involve Māori in water management

The relationship between the Crown and Māori enshrined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi is central to water management. Māori are critically important partners for those public organisations managing water resources. This is increasingly recognised in legislation, particularly legislation that gives effect to Treaty settlements. However, many iwi struggle to maintain consistent relationships with public organisations after a treaty settlement.30

The current system for managing water and other natural resources is set out in the Resource Management Act 1991. This Act places obligations on all those exercising functions and powers under it, including regional councils, to recognise and provide for the relationship of Māori and their culture and traditions with water, to have particular regard to kaitiakitanga, and to take into account the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.31

The Crown, Māori, and local government need to have ways to work together to design effective and enduring solutions to our water management challenges.

Co-governance and co-management arrangements have been established and avenues created for iwi and hapū to contribute to the management of water resources. Although there are enduring benefits for Māori and communities, achieving these can come at a cost for Māori communities and councils.

In our work, we found that the commitment required to establish relationships and processes, and to build and maintain a shared understanding of what everyone is trying to achieve, is significant and often underestimated.

Continued Crown engagement and resourcing is needed for the current and future arrangements that enable Māori involvement in managing water resources to remain effective.

The Waitangi Tribunal released its report into National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources in August 2019, recommending that a national freshwater co-governance body be set up to ensure direct co-governance in freshwater decision-making. The Tribunal also recommended that:

  • the Crown provide more funding to restore freshwater bodies and to help Māori participate in the Resource Management Act process;
  • co-designing policy involving Māori interests with Māori be a standard process; and
  • the Crown monitor councils to ensure that they meet their obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The Government has yet to respond to this report.

Water management challenges require both central and local government response

Several reviews and proposed reforms are under way that might affect the water management roles and responsibilities of local government. One of the most significant is the Three Waters Review. In October 2019, the Government announced its decision to create a stand-alone Crown entity to regulate drinking water in New Zealand. The Taumata Arowai–Water Services Regulator Bill was introduced in Parliament on 11 December 2019.

Other potential regulatory reform – for example, the review of the Resource Management Act – will play a part in determining the respective roles and responsibilities of central and local government.

The Government announced in October 2018 that it is committed to delivering a noticeable improvement in New Zealand's water quality within five years.32 On 5 September 2019, it announced its Action for Healthy Waterways and began consultation on a package of proposals that would place new requirements on councils.33 Submissions were accepted until 31 October 2019.

Our work highlights that councils are facing capacity (and, in some cases, capability) issues in meeting their water management roles and responsibilities. In particular, increasing standards for freshwater quality have implications for city and district councils' management of stormwater and wastewater networks and drinking water.

[To improve freshwater quality] multiple actions are needed, requiring partnerships between central and local authorities, iwi, citizens and businesses including farmers – Gluckman, P (2017), New Zealand's fresh waters: Values, state, trends and human impacts, Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, Wellington, page vi.

In developing and implementing a more strategic and integrated approach to water management, the respective roles and responsibilities of central and local government need to be carefully considered. This includes considering the implications of changing the regulatory settings of the public organisations implementing that approach, how it is funded, and any other resources that might be needed.

Several new agencies have a role in managing water and delivering water-related services, most notably a proposed new drinking water regulator, the new Infrastructure Commission, and the Climate Change Commission. It is important that the strategic objectives and priorities of these new organisations are aligned with each other and that they direct programmes of work that can be implemented effectively and efficiently.

25: Australia New Zealand School of Government (2019), Nine ways to achieve successful collaboration.

26: Office of the Auditor-General (2019), Using different processes to protect marine environments.

27: New Zealand's territorial sea is the area extending from the coast to the 12-nautical-mile limit.

28: Office of the Auditor-General (2019), Using different processes to protect marine environments, pages 4-5.

29: Press release, 2 July 2019, New Ministerial Committee established to progress Hauraki Gulf marine plan, at

30: Kensington Swan, 21 September 2018, What next for the Government's new agency – Maori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti?, at

31: See Part 2 of the Resource Management Act 1991, sections 6(e), 7(a), and 8 respectively.

32: Press release by Minister for the Environment, 8 October 2018, Taking action to improve water quality, at

33: Ministry for the Environment (2019), Action for healthy waterways – A discussion document on national direction for our essential freshwater. See also paragraph 2.10 of this report.