Part 6: Environment Southland's progress since 2019

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

Summary of key findings

In 2019, we saw that Environment Southland had built strong collaborative relationships with Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku on freshwater initiatives over many years. In this follow-up work, we wanted to see whether these relationships remained strong.

In our view, the foundations built from long-standing personal relationships between the Council and Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku have created the conditions for enduring and meaningful relationships. This results in more effective freshwater management.

The Council has a flexible and responsive approach to working with the iwi, and there is a shared understanding of partnership in their relationship. The Council and the iwi successfully integrated community and iwi values for managing freshwater in their work on the NPS-FM.

We heard that trust and confidence between Environment Southland and Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku has continued to improve since 2019. This has led to mana whenua being appointed to governance roles, improvements in iwi access to mahinga kai, and improvements in water quality in some catchments.

Changes to freshwater management in Southland since 2019

Environment Southland and Ngāi Tahu are developing their relationship through several freshwater management projects

Environment Southland has partnered with Te Ao Mārama – the entity that represents the four rūnanga of Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku on environmental issues – on Plan Change Tuatahi.20 The purpose of this work is to update the Southland Water and Land Plan in keeping with the 2020 update to the NPS-FM.

As part of this work, Te Ao Mārama and Environment Southland have worked together to identify values that describe what matters about freshwater to the people of Southland. This was a two-year programme that involved Environment Southland identifying and consulting on community values to guide freshwater management and Te Ao Mārama identifying values at a catchment level.

Environment Southland and Te Ao Mārama staff then worked to bring together the iwi's and community's freshwater values into one set as the first step in preparing a national framework for freshwater management under the NPS-FM.

On 20 February 2019, the Council approved the appointment of two mana whenua members to each of the Regional Services Committee and the Strategy and Policy Committee.21 On 9 March 2022, the Council formally appointed the first mana whenua representatives to these committees.

Environment Southland has partnered with Hokonui Rūnanga to co-fund the surveying and monitoring of mahinga kai. It has also worked with Te Ao Mārama to develop a catchment context tool to provide easy access to catchment information for property owners preparing farm plans.

Environment Southland has worked with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and other agencies on Whakamana te Waituna – a trust set up in 2018 to co-ordinate activities to restore the mana of the Waituna Lagoon and catchment.

The Council is also part of the Enviroschools programme alongside Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, schools and kindergartens, and other local councils which involves students in environmental management.

Environment Southland and Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku are achieving positive freshwater outcomes

Council staff spoke about how their recent work on freshwater has benefited from the Council's long-standing relationship with Te Ao Mārama. Council staff felt that the iwi and the Council have a mutual understanding of this partnership and that this has resulted in ongoing discussions about involving iwi in freshwater and environmental management.

Council staff spoke about being flexible and responsive to the way iwi want to work and the importance of ensuring safety for iwi and council staff in freshwater discussions to allow difficult conversations and different views to be worked through.

The iwi felt that council staff are helpful and that they understand the importance of Te Mana o Te Wai for achieving freshwater outcomes for the region. They spoke of a strong commitment to building and maintaining relationships throughout the Council.

The iwi felt that relationships with councillors are positive but that the three-year election cycle can make it hard to maintain long-term relationships. This means that the iwi needs to rebuild relationships when councils change. Recent appointments of mana whenua to council committees are a positive step that show that the Council's senior staff value iwi input.

We heard that the approach that Environment Southland and Te Ao Mārama have taken to integrate freshwater management values has built trust. Both the Council and the iwi invested a lot of time in making the process respectful and thorough. The Council set up reporting and feedback mechanisms at all levels of the Council and made conscious efforts to set up mechanisms for co-governance as part of the overall process.

We heard examples of partnerships between Environment Southland and mana whenua that have led to positive freshwater and social outcomes. Iwi involvement has led to sewerage being disposed on land rather than into Lake Te Anau, protecting its water quality. A recent evaluation of Whakamana te Waituna found improvements to the ecological health of the Waituna catchment and to mana whenua access to mahinga kai.22

In their work on improving freshwater quality, Ngāi Tahu ki Murihiku and Environment Southland rely on a strong foundation of trust and confidence built over many years. This has proved to be effective, but without a Mana Whakahono ā Rohe agreement there is a potential risk to their enduring relationships if council staff or iwi representatives move on.23

A strength of Environment Southland's relationship with mana whenua in managing freshwater is the value placed on discussions about their long-term relationship and how it might develop further. For example, we heard that the charter of understanding between Te Ao Mārama and local authorities in Murihiku, including Environment Southland, is being reviewed to consider how Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu wants to work with councils.

We heard that the iwi and the Council felt that their joint work is leading to positive freshwater outcomes for the region, even though it takes a long time and can be frustrating for them both. They agreed that they need to better communicate this success to the public. The Council and the iwi both consider that it is important to keep the community aware and involved with their work in the future.

Implementing Plan Change Tuatahi will be the next big challenge for the iwi and the Council. Although there is uncertainty about potential changes in national policy settings, both the iwi and the regional council felt that their relationship will remain strong.

20: Plan Change Tuatahi is Environment Southland's work programme to update the Southland Water and Land Plan in line with the NPS-FM.

21: The Regional Services Committee's responsibilities include governance for the Council on its non-regulatory implementation of council plans. The Strategy and Policy Committee's responsibilities include governance for the Council on its plans, policies, and strategies.

22: Whakamana te Waituna is the trust set up between Te Runanga o Ngāi Tahu, the Department of Conservation, Environment Southland, Southland District Council, and Fonterra to restore the mana of the Waituna Lagoon and catchment.

23: 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.