By Roger Bannister
When most people think of Auckland they think of the metropolitan areas, a city containing a third of New Zealand’s population. In fact the Auckland region is a predominantly rural landscape, with rural land uses accounting for 90% of the land area. The contrast of concentrated population and rural activities – horticulture, pastoral farming plantation forestry and native forests – makes the management of water resources a challenge, even more so when considering that most of our water bodies drain into one of three major harbours.
The introduction of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM) and a number of other Council-led initiatives, including a Water Strategic Action Plan and Marine Spatial Planning, creates the opportunity to better manage our fresh and coastal waters by catering to the specific needs of catchments and communities in an integrated way.
The harbours and coastlines in the Auckland are of great importance to our community, so it seems sensible to us, to take the concepts and principles of the NPSFM and extend them to the near shore coastal environment. Through the NPSFM, Councils are required to consider values and set limits that maintain or enhance the freshwater resources. Auckland Council also is undertaking a large project on Marine Spatial Planning that includes identifying values in coastal and marine areas. This programme also will apply a collaborative engagement process to determine agreed outcomes. With the two projects working closely together and in parallel it will ensure that each has consideration for the other. Joint planning will allow freshwater limits to be set that are sensitive to the marine environment and vice-versa. As the two are inextricably linked a collective management approach needs to be taken. We are in the planning stages of how we can hear the values of our communities for coastal and freshwater simultaneously.
Implementation of the NPSFM programme still presents some significant challenges in the way we approach integrated management. Both the Land and Water Forum reports and the proposed Freshwater Reform 2013 have opened the way for collaborative processes. Not least amongst these challenges is the role of the 19 Mana Whenua groups in Auckland and a council of a governing body in co-governance with 21 Local Boards.
Auckland has freshwater issues, as with most areas in New Zealand, but the intense pressures on demand and water quality are not in the public arena here as elsewhere. Around the world collaborative processes have had the most success where demand and quality pressures exist and communities have a high level of interest in the resource. With the tools provided by the NPSFM and what is proposed in the Freshwater Reforms we have a real opportunity to benefit from a higher level of engagement or a collaborative process. To thoroughly capitalise on these opportunities we need to consider how best to encourage the buy-in and to foster a willingness to participate in these processes from our communities.
Roger Bannister is the Team Leader Water Management in Environmental Strategy and Policy unit at Auckland Council.