Evolution of water governance models in New Zealand

By Waiology 27/03/2013

By Bryan Jenkins

WaterGovernanceWaiology2013In her work that won her the 2009 Nobel Prize in economics, Elinor Ostrom identified three types of governance models for common pool resources like water. One is the “Leviathan model” where there is direct government provision of services with integration of policy making and operational functions. The second is the “privatisation model” where there is private sector provision of services with government role as regulator. The third is the self-governing community model where there is community determination of resource management requirements.

We have seen the evolution of these different models in western countries. After WW2, the welfare state was the dominant approach of government. In relation to water management in NZ, the Ministry of Works had the prime responsibility for water management – a classic example of a Leviathan governance model. In the 1980s there was a shift to the neoliberal concept of the private sector being responsible for service provision and that the government’s role was that of regulator.

The Resource Management Act reflects this privatisation model. The RMA was designed on the premise that private interests know best what they want. Thus the responsibility for defining proposals was left to applicants. The RMA was also designed on the basis of “effects management”: applicants’ choices would be constrained by bottom lines set by government with legal oversight (i.e. the Environment Court). Consents for water use are issued as a form of private property right.

However, when sustainability limits are reached for common pool resources like water, it is not sufficient to rely on individual proposals for water use. This is because individual and collective preferences diverge – the basis for a “tragedy of the commons”. But Ostrom’s work indicates that the self-governing community model can achieve sustainable management of common pool resources. This led the Canterbury Regional Council to adopt collaborative governance approaches to the development of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) and to the formulation of programmes to implement the strategy.

There is not one institutional design for a self managed community approach. Rather there is a set of principles that need to be met. In Canterbury there have been different institutional designs for the development of the CWMS compared to formulating implementation programmes. The CWMS was built around a public and stakeholder engagement process overseen by a multi-stakeholder Steering Group of water interests and reporting to the Canterbury Mayoral Forum. It identified that “business as usual” was not sustainable and that it was only possible to achieve sustainable development by considering existing uses of water as well as new uses and projects. There was no capacity for further water development unless the cumulative effects of existing use were reduced.

This led to the formulation of implementation programmes for 10 zones within Canterbury for catchment based issues (Zone Implementation Programmes – ZIPs) and a Regional Implementation Programme (RIP) for regional issues. Zone Committees were established with community, runanga and local authority members. The Regional Committee has a representative of each zone, community members, runanga and Ngai Tahu representatives, and local authority representatives and an independent chair. The RIP and ZIPs are work-in-progress but there are encouraging signs of more sustainable forms of storage (e.g. the selection of the Waitohi storage as an alternative to the controversial dam on the Hurunui South Branch and control gates on Lake Sumner) and the setting of catchment nutrient limits that are in some cases below current levels of nutrient generation.

The outcome of the CWMS was given statutory backing through the recent Canterbury Regional Policy Statement while the process of giving statutory backing to the RIP and ZIPs through the Land and Water Plan is well advanced.

Collaborative governance has created a new water management paradigm in Canterbury. Collaborative approaches have been endorsed by the Land and Water Forum and in the recent government freshwater reform proposals.

However this governance approach is still in its formative phase and the real test will come with on-the-ground implementation. This is likely to require a different institutional design to strategy development and implementation programme formulation. New Zealand models of collaborative governance need to incorporate treaty partnership approaches with community decision making approaches. There is also the issue of the governance of the regional council. In Canterbury, the collaborative concepts were developed under an elected council and are being implemented by the temporary commissioners but the long term governance arrangements are unclear.

Ostrom E (1990) Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Dr Bryan Jenkins is Professor of Strategic Water Management in the Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management, a joint centre between Canterbury and Lincoln Universities.

0 Responses to “Evolution of water governance models in New Zealand”

  • Reading Ostrom’s principles of collaborative governance, the requirement for nested arrangements seems eminently sensible. Though I am not sure that the Land and Water Forum picked up on it, and in some ways neither did the recent Government proposals. The discussion of WCOs is a case in point, where waterbodies of national significance – a kin to national parks – seem only subject to local decision-making. In any case, I look forward to the results of our local and national co-governance experiment. [Daniel]

  • You are correct in that the Land and Water Forum did not consider nested arrangements. The forum’s focus was on catchment management. This is an essential level in any institutional design involving water management but it is not the only level. In Canterbury with interbasin transfers and groundwater zones underlying more than one catchment the regional level is relevant. For economic and Treaty issues as well as matters of national significance the national level is relevant. Below the catchment level subcatchments are relevant for environmental flow monitoring points and water quality management of tributaries. Also the individual farm properties need to be considered.

  • Great points in here, Bryan – thanks. I have to say that I’m a strong advocate for collaborative approaches because, put simply, although the “solutions” (I put in “”s because I don’t believe there are ever final solutions in complex situations) may not be perfect, they are likely to be of much higher quality (measured in all sorts of ways including being er …”implementable”) because
    1) it widens the number of perspectives used in the decision process and,
    2) because stakeholders are involved in the decision in a hands-on way, rather than expert planners taking away their information and making a decision for them.
    Looking at it this way, it is not easy for councils used to doing the latter, to make the myriad changes in attitude and process to successfully work with the former. All credit to Environment Canterbury for working through this and doing the learning required!
    It is a worry, however that the situation in Canterbury and the Government’s failure to take the advice of their own commissioners is leading us into a very difficult situation where we will have a completely new council ( ..? ) with no experience. Admittedly, such a situation is a worry even without the CWMS stuff.
    It is also interesting to ponder what structures will be needed for implementation and what further changes the Council will need to make. It is clear that good catchment management (for example) will take more capacity to work across expertise boundaries (and for this I use the word expertise to include community, business and facilitation expertise, as well as science etc.) since we all ultimately affect waterways albeit in different ways and to different degrees.
    We live in exciting and interesting times!

    Chrys H

  • So you want water governance to be intelligently designed, not evolved 😉

    I think the real test will not be the implementation but the 10-20 year outcome.

  • Possum is correct. The real test is in the implementation. There have been encouraging signs in the implementation programmes of setting nutrient caps for tributaries and catchments – some with caps below current nutrient levels. There have been on the ground reductions through some voluntary programmes. The immediate steps biodivesity programme is underway. However this is work in progress. Significant change is needed if the CWMS targets are to be achieved.