Our water management reports

Our water management reports

Te wai. Water. It’s important to New Zealanders. We expect the water from our taps to be clean and safe, wastewater and stormwater to
not pollute the environment, and our rivers, lakes, and oceans to
be healthy ecosystems that are safe to swim in and
to gather kai moana. Failing to meet these expectations can cause
lasting damage to the public’s trust and confidence in the public sector.
That trust and confidence is important to us. We’ve recently finished two years’ worth
of work looking at water management. We picked topics from how councils manage the rainfall
when it’s heavy and could cause flooding, to how they know how much water farmers are
using for irrigation, to how different groups come together to formally protect
our marine environments. Our stormwater report describes how three
councils didn’t really know enough about the state of their stormwater systems, and
their risk of flooding. That matters, because it makes a difference to how well protected
communities are from flooding. Different levels of protection will come
at different costs, so communities need to get involved and find what their council already knows about flood
risks and what their council’s plans are. Our drinking water report describes how the councils
we looked at were managing the supply and demand for drinking water. Did you know that for many councils, up to a quarter of the water can be lost through leaking pipes? Managing supply and demand are equally important, so the councils doing both are
better placed to respond to future challenges like climate change, or population growth. Our freshwater quality report describes how four councils are managing the quality
of water in their regions. Each council takes what it considers
is the right approach, measuring water quality differently
for different reasons. Because they measure differently, their data can’t
easily be compared – which means it’s not possible to get a detailed, nationwide,
picture of the changing state of the water in New Zealand’s rivers, lakes, and streams. Without that clear picture, it’s hard for
central government agencies to know where to put the most effort to help improve
freshwater quality. Our freshwater clean-up report looked at how projects to clean lakes and rivers were funded. The processes are sound enough – but there isn’t a national framework to guide where the
funding goes, and no national goals to support funding the most important projects first. Our irrigation report describes how councils were
usually good at checking the amount of water users were taking, but the data
they were collecting could be improved. With better and timely data, councils
can encourage water users to be more efficient and keep communities
informed about trends in water use. This matters, because a huge amount of the country’s water is used for irrigation. Our Hauraki Gulf report looked at how a plan came together to share that waterway. The plan was trying to find a way to balance the needs of everyone using the waterway,
whether for fishing, or tourism, or gathering kai moana, while still
protecting the marine area. In many ways, the plan is a successful example of a collaborative approach, but the resulting
plan was difficult to implement easily. Our marine reserves report describes how well two
different projects went about trying to set up protected marine areas – one near
Dunedin and the other at Kaikōura. New Zealand has 44 marine reserves – they cover
just 0.4% of the sea area around the main islands. There’s so few reserves because setting them
up isn’t easy – it’s fraught with tension and usually takes a long time. We concluded that the legislation and policy need to offer a more flexible way to balance
people’s different views and values. We wrapped up what all these reports told us
in one report for Parliament. In summary, what’s needed is stronger leadership –
to get everyone to a shared vision for our water resources and have a plan for making that happen. New Zealand needs a step up in how
water resources are managed. For more information about these reports and
our other work, go to oag.govt.nz.

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About the Author: John Markowski

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