Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Supporting new approaches to freshwater management

TANK group participants on a field trip

TANK group participants on a field trip

Recent changes to the way that freshwater resources are managed in New Zealand have heightened the relevance and utility of research being undertaken in the ‘Values, Monitoring and Outcomes (VMO) for Freshwater Management’ programme.

In the three years that the programme, led by Landcare Research, has been active there has been stronger Government support for collaborative planning processes, rather than the conflicted and litigious approaches that have existed under the Resource Management Act.

The ability to understand and assess the multiple values of water is critical to community and catchment-level decision-making. The VMO programme was established to address the knowledge gap in how we practically move to more collaborative management.

As part of the VMO programme we have organised a Regional Council Forum, six-monthly two-day workshops where key council staff get to discuss topical issues in an open and collegial environment. All regional councils will soon be required to run collaborative processes to set limits for water quality and water use. Our fifth forum event , which focused on this issue, enabled three ‘early adopter’ councils (Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, and Canterbury) to compare their respective approaches, and for the other three participating councils to consider where and how they could facilitate collaborative processes within their regions. Feedback on the forum has been very positive and several additional councils are now interested in taking part.

A key element of the VMO programme has been our work, along with Cawthron Institute and NIWA, facilitating a collaborative stakeholder group convened by Hawke’s Bay Regional Council. With a large number of water permits in the Greater Heretaunga and Ahuriri catchments expiring from 2015 onwards, the council created the stakeholder group to recommend allocation limits and water quality targets.

Established in late 2012, the ‘TANK group’, named after the four sub-catchments affected (Tutaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and Karamu), has been meeting regularly over the last 12 months to understand the local water issues and try to reach a consensus on management.

Key observations to-date about the TANK process include the importance of allowing sufficient time to build trust and social capital among participants; the need for science to deliver the evidence base to support decision-making; and the value of engaging as a group outside the deliberation room.

The facilitators have noted the importance of the clear mandate for the group, in this case the council’s ‘good faith undertaking’ to implement any consensus that is consistent with planning legislation and its long term plan; the need for the recruitment of appropriate stakeholders to ensure all viewpoints are considered; and the individual mandate of participants to represent a community, group, industry or sector.

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is also engaged with the VMO programme with its twin goals of overseeing the adoption of collaborative processes by regional councils and improving the monitoring of water quality around the country. Researchers in the programme have a major role as advisors in MfE’s on-going NEMaR (National Environmental Monitoring and Reporting) project, which seeks to achieve consistent and dependable state-of-environment monitoring of New Zealand’s waters across all sixteen regions and territories – as a basis for improved national as well as regional SoE reporting.

There is also a strong Māori component to the VMO programme. Cultural health monitoring initiatives developed during the Integrated Catchment Management programme in the Motueka Catchment have been adopted by four North Island iwi, with a new focus on how that information can be used to influence decision making.

Knowledge being developed by the programme is being shared with stakeholders through Landcare Research Link seminars with policymakers, and the concise ‘Policy Brief’ and more extensive ‘Policy Guidance’ series of documents.