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By Hugh Canard

WaterGovernanceWaiology2013I was asked to contribute to Waiology’s series on water governance, and after a very brief struggle with my inertial guidance system, I thought my contribution should be from the inside of the governance tent looking out. I have been variously engaged in the early stages of the development through to the implementation phases of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, and I have been a member of the small group of the Land & Water Forum. I was selected as a representative of water-based recreation, not for any real or perceived level of expertise in science or engineering.

The Land & Water Forum was a bottom-up response to a rapidly deteriorating state of many of New Zealand’s waterways and failed attempts to address the wider legislative issues. Agricultural intensification and a widespread perception of abundance of water failed to deal with the creeping decline of water quality in many catchments. The stakeholders collectively approached a receptive environment minister to fund the forum in a collaborative process to produce a series of reports.

The result was three reports full of recommendations, some unexceptional common sense, and others more challenging, requiring a paradigm shift from adversarial to collaborative processes to manage water. The government took a bold step in supporting a process with no specified outcome, and the response to the reports has been largely positive. What worked? What were the key features that enabled this process to deliver? I think – entirely from my perspective – three things.

1. Social organisation and kaupapa. Peer-to-peer selection occurred at a level of authority that left little wriggle room for backing away from commitments made around the table. We had CEOs and their equivalents. Having all competing user groups, iwi, eNGOs around the table made for an uncomfortable time during the early sessions and towards the report deadlines, but without a consensus across the full spectrum, the reports would have lacked force and would been diluted by political risk.

2. Resources. The government funded the process in part, with the participants contributing substantially in-kind. With senior representation in attendance the stakeholder contribution was significant enough to command attention from both the participants and the wider government. The chair was a critical choice. We needed both a facilitator and a guide through the labyrinth of government.

3. A common and elevated level of understanding. This is where the role of science came into play, so I’ll become more expansive. Each stakeholder came with their own personal knowledge. Some with detailed RMA knowledge, some with ecological, economic, operational or agricultural backgrounds. Each had a corporate agenda and a personal value set in varying proportions. Iwi had a multi-layered set of values that in many respects mirrored the national scene of competing interests. The early sessions included a briefing from each stakeholder which enabled the Forum members to understand where each of us were coming from, and a specialist science briefing from nationally recognised experts in all matters ‘water’. There was a notable two day session at which Clive Howard-Williams of NIWA assembled a range of scientists who addressed the Forum in a participatory process. There were legal, economic and policy sessions by experts as well. The end result was that all Forum members quickly began to appreciate the full spectrum of issues and be up to speed with the state of the art knowledge that exists in New Zealand. A notable exercise was when Fish & Game’s CEO gave a flawless representation of the dairy sector’s position on water, followed by an equally flawless presentation of the environmental NGOs’ views values and position by the Federated Farmers Dairy chair. Hard to imagine a year earlier.

The final report of the LWF contains many references to the role of science and understanding in aiding policy development and in the future management of water in New Zealand. Science informs, sheds light, and lifts the game. In turn policies inform future science direction in the service of the nation. That to me, at a professional and personal level, is one the major achievements that the collaborative process delivered.


Hugh Canard is an engineer, a kayaker, and the Group Manager, Environmental at Lincoln Agritech Ltd. His team addresses the issue of groundwater contamination.