Part 1: Why we did this work

Regional councils’ relationships with iwi and hapu for freshwater management – a follow-up report.

Effective freshwater management is an important focus for all regional councils who are responsible for managing freshwater quality in their regions. The quality of New Zealand's freshwater environment affects the lives of all New Zealanders. However, the way we use and manage land and freshwater is putting many of our freshwater ecosystems under pressure.

In 2019, we published a report looking at how well Waikato Regional Council, Taranaki Regional Council, Horizons Regional Council, and Environment Southland manage freshwater quality in their regions.1 We also looked at how well the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand were using the data that regional councils collect to create a national picture of freshwater quality.

One of our recommendations in that report was:

… that Waikato Regional Council, Taranaki Regional Council, and Horizons Regional Council strengthen relationships with iwi and hapū, especially those yet to complete Treaty settlement processes, by formally seeking their aspirations for involvement in strategic decision-making and identifying how those aspirations can be met.

The purpose of this follow-up work was to see what progress the three regional councils have made on this recommendation since 2019. Although we did not direct the recommendation at Environment Southland, we included it in this work to see how its relationships had also developed during this period. We followed up the four other recommendations we made in our 2019 report in a separate piece of work in 2023.2

Māori have deep cultural, traditional, and customary connections with waterways. These relationships to water have a special significance in Treaty settlements. As a result, regional councils have statutory obligations to involve iwi and hapū in managing freshwater resources through the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) and the Resource Management Act 1991, as well as Treaty settlements and other pieces of legislation.

As we noted in our 2019 report, effective relationships help regional councils to better understand Māori values and aspirations for freshwater management and reflect them in freshwater management objectives. We expect regional councils to have enduring and meaningful relationships with iwi and hapū so that all parties can work towards shared long-term goals for managing freshwater.

The operating context for managing freshwater is changing. Enduring and meaningful relationships between regional councils and iwi and hapū can assist in navigating these changes.

The NPS-FM introduced the concept of Te Mana o te Wai, the life-supporting capacity of freshwater, in 2014. The NPS-FM was updated in 2020, and the update strengthened and clarified the role of Te Mana o te Wai as a fundamental concept in managing freshwater.3

The NPS-FM requires each regional council to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai by developing a long-term vision for freshwater management through discussions with communities and tangata whenua. Councils must involve tangata whenua in managing freshwater resources to the extent that they wish to be (including in decision-making processes and in monitoring and preparing policy statements and plans).

Councils must also investigate using tools available under the Resource Management Act as ways of involving tangata whenua.4 These tools include joint management arrangements, Whakahono ā Rohe: Iwi participation agreements, and the transfer or delegation of powers.

Regional councils are also required to monitor progress towards achieving target attribute states and environmental outcomes for water bodies in their regions.5 They must include mātauranga Māori measures in the methods they use to do this. They also need to submit updated regional freshwater plans to the Ministry for the Environment by 31 December 2027.6

The Resource Management Act requires regional councils to involve iwi and hapū in managing freshwater resources. The Local Government Act 2002, Treaty settlement legislation, and other pieces of legislation also include provisions that require regional councils to involve Māori in decision-making processes. Treaty settlements can require regional councils to enter into joint management agreements with post-settlement governance entities to manage natural resources.7

There are opportunities to develop relationships between regional councils and iwi and hapū through different types of work on managing freshwater. These include regional councils consulting with iwi and hapū on updates to their regional freshwater plans, seeking cultural impact assessments on resource consents from iwi and hapū, and working with iwi and hapū to monitor freshwater quality.

Expected changes to legislation might shift the context for freshwater management. In December 2023, the Government said that it would consult to replace the NPS-FM. It has signalled elsewhere that this work will include work to rebalance Te Mana o te Wai.8

The Spatial Planning Act and the Natural and Built Environment Act were repealed under urgency in December 2023. As a result, the Resource Management Act remains the primary legislation that controls how our environment is managed. It is also set to be amended as part of the Government's coalition agreements.

Changes to these pieces of legislation might affect how regional councils are required to involve tangata whenua in managing freshwater. However, meaningful relationships are the basis for constructive dialogue about water management.

What we did

For relationships between regional councils, iwi, and hapū to support effective freshwater management, all parties need a high level of trust and confidence in each other.

We examined how the four regional councils work with iwi and hapū to strengthen their relationships for managing freshwater quality. That included how they incorporate the views of iwi and hapū on freshwater into their strategic decision-making. This allowed us to understand some of the drivers of meaningful and enduring relationships in managing freshwater.

We spoke with staff at each of the four regional councils about their work with iwi and hapū on managing freshwater. We also reviewed relevant documents and talked to 25 representatives from a range of iwi, hapū, and post-settlement governance entities in the four regions about their views.

The findings of our 2022 report Māori perspectives on public accountability helped us to think about what might be important to iwi and hapū in building trusting relationships and informed our approach to this work.9

Iwi and hapū have a range of distinct views about their relationships with regional councils. Approaches to managing freshwater may differ in each region, as do the relationships between regional councils and each iwi and hapū.

We were not able to speak to all iwi and hapū working on freshwater in these regions, and our conclusions do not cover all the relationships that regional councils have with iwi and hapū. Instead, we focused on understanding what is working well (and not so well) in general so that our work can support councils to develop these relationships further.

1: Controller and Auditor-General (2019), Managing freshwater quality: Challenges and opportunities, at

2: Controller and Auditor-General (2023), Responses to our recommendations about managing freshwater quality, at

3: Ministry for the Environment (2023), Essential Freshwater policies and regulations: implementation guidance, at

4: Mana Whakahono ā Rohe is a tool designed to assist tangata whenua and local authorities to discuss, agree, and record how they will work together under the Resource Management Act.

5: An attribute is something that can be measured or monitored that describes the state of a river or lake. For example, the amount of nitrogen or phosphorus in the water. There are 22 compulsory attributes in the NPS-FM, many of which have a minimum standard, or national bottom line – these contribute to understanding how freshwater provides for ecosystem health and human contact. Ministry for the Environment (2020), Action for health waterways: Information on attributes for managing the ecosystem health and human contact values in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater, at

6: On 19 December 2023, the deadline for notifying changes to freshwater plans was extended from 31 December 2024 to 31 December 2027 to allow the Government time to do the work needed to replace the NPS-FM and for regional councils to respond to the changes.

7: Joint management agreements are an instrument under the Resource Management Act that provides for agreements between a local authority with one or more public authorities, iwi authorities, or groups that represent hapū to jointly perform or exercise any of the local authority's functions, powers, or duties under the Resource Management Act relating to a natural or physical resource. Post-settlement governance entities are legal entities set up to manage the collective assets received by the claimant group of a Treaty settlement.

8: New Zealand National Party (2023) Primary Sector Growth Plan, at

9: Controller and Auditor-General (2022), Commissioned report: Māori perspectives on public accountability,
Haemata Limited, at