Managing water use for everyone

21:09, Jun 14 2012
David Caygill
STRATEGY: David Caygill has been working with all stakeholders through ECan.

ECan commissioner David Caygill reports on progress towards a Canterbury water management strategy.

Better management of Canterbury's water has been the number one priority for Environment Canterbury's commissioners from the first day we began work, in May 2010.

We are pleased with the progress that has been made over the past two years in water management, which is even more remarkable taking into account the significant disruption caused by the earthquakes in and around Christchurch.

There has been outstanding progress via the collaborative and community- led Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

The rest of New Zealand is watching our progress in Canterbury to see if we can in fact achieve a collaborative system of water management.

The strategy was developed by community consensus over a number of years and resulted in a framework document published in 2009.


The strategy sets out a shared vision - and a collaborative process - for gaining the greatest benefits from water, while at the same time protecting and restoring the environment.

The remarkable thing about the strategy is the level of agreement on what needs to be achieved. We all want thriving, prosperous communities and a healthy environment.

The strategy is clear, however, that there has been a high environmental price for our development so far.

We must find ways to protect the environment and begin to reverse the past damage to our rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands - so our agricultural economic base in Canterbury can become sustainable.

The strategy sets out 10 areas of water management goals covering environmental, cultural, social and economic values.

There is broad agreement over goals.

This agreement has flowed through to the work of the 10 zone committees set up by Environment Canterbury and our city and district council partners.

Each zone committee has been asked to make the strategy's shared vision a reality in their zone, taking into account community needs and desires.

People with quite different values have come together on zone committees and agreed on ways to facilitate development as well as protect the important values for water agreed under the strategy. It is very encouraging that every organisation involved with the development of the strategy is still positively involved - no-one has stepped away from the table.

Seven of the committees have already produced programmes of recommendations that represent the consensus view of local communities on the actions needed to achieve the goals set out in the strategy.

These zone implementation programmes are being accepted by Environment Canterbury and other councils as the basis for our own work programmes, as well as the development of regional and catchment plans for water management.

This is fundamentally different from the previous way of writing a plan and then running a formal consultation process, which often ended in court-imposed decisions that pleased no-one.

Our planners and scientists are now working closely with zone committees to ensure plans reflect the wishes of local communities.

An example of this new way of working is the draft Land and Water Regional Plan, recently released by Environment Canterbury. This new plan contains objectives, policies and rules to replace most of the operative Natural Resources Regional Plan.

The draft Land and Water Regional Plan is a major streamline of the old plan and for the first time includes comprehensive water quality limits, as well as limits on water use and river flows. Last year's National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management now requires such limits.

The draft Land and Water Regional Plan makes it clearer what people can and cannot do around water. This includes people living and working in cities and towns, as well as people working the land.

The recommendations from zone committees will be incorporated into the draft Land and Water Regional Plan as sub-chapters.

The plan will start with default limits for water use, water allocation, and nutrients. These limits will be updated with more detailed numbers for each catchment and sub-catchment.

Sub-catchment limits are being developed through a separate collaborative process being run by the zone committees and involving a wide range of stakeholders.

It is clear we also need regional integration of water management to ensure good outcomes. This work has been given to a regional committee, set up as part of the strategy.

The work of the regional committee aligns with that of the zone committees - there is no hierarchy - with an on- going dialogue between committees on water issues at the zone and the regional level.

In March this year the regional committee produced a draft Regional Implementation Programme to complement the various zone implementation programmes.

The Regional Implementation Programme identified four priority issues across Canterbury and represents more than a year of work and extensive stakeholder and community engagement.

The priority issues in the Regional Implementation Programme are Kaitiakitanga (the Maori concept of guardianship, which is a theme running through the entire strategy); ecosystem health and biodiversity (protecting and repairing the environment); land use and water quality (managing the effects of intensive farming on waterways); and regional infrastructure (water storage and distribution).

We recognise that regional infrastructure, however, is the area with the potential to generate significant controversy, particularly among urban audiences.

It is important therefore to reiterate the Canterbury Water Management Strategy requires us to protect and improve environmental and cultural values, at the same time as facilitating development.

For irrigation proposals to succeed they will have to show they are not at the expense of the environment or cultural values.

The regional committee is working on an integrated and regional approach to water supply and distribution infrastructure in Canterbury. The key is to make more water available through storage and efficiency gains.

The easy water, however, is already taken. More water will be needed to meet the multiple targets in the strategy - environmental, cultural, social - as well as to facilitate economic development. This means more water in our rivers to enhance the environment and help improve water quality.

It also means more water for irrigation and increased reliability for existing users, which will help drive continued prosperity for communities - rural and urban - in Canterbury.

Finding new water is likely to be more costly and complex. It is likely to come with an environmental premium. One obvious question is who should bear this cost?

The Government has provided money - through the Irrigation Acceleration Fund - to help scheme proponents look at the feasibility of water storage and distribution projects. Around $35 million is available on a $1-for-$1 basis.

Proponents are being encouraged to work through local zone committees and the regional committee to ensure their proposals align with the strategy and make sense at the regional level.

One-off water schemes that do not take into account the regional picture could be sub-optimal or could even fail. Proposals are being assessed against the full range of targets in the strategy.

This regional view will help ensure a system of regional infrastructure in Canterbury to provide water where and when it is needed, while ensuring we are protecting environmental and other values for water.

Although the engineering and infrastructure considerations are substantial, the real key to developing an integrated regional system of water infrastructure is the extent of collaboration now and in the coming years.

Our best chance of achieving this collaboration is through the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and the work already achieved by the 10 zone committees and the regional committee.

David Caygill is the Environment Canterbury commissioner with responsibility for water.

The Press