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Part 4: Our water management work programme

Introducing our work programme - Water management.

4.1
Starting in 2017/18, we will be looking at how well a range of organisations are carrying out their water management roles and responsibilities. We chose the following topics because they enable us to discuss the full range of themes outlined in Part 3 – which relate to some of the most significant water management challenges facing New Zealand.

TopicWhat will we look at?What themes can we explore through this work?What organisations will be involved?
Drinking waterDrinking water
Protecting drinking-water sources How well local authorities are protecting drinking-water supply sources to ensure that there is enough safe and reliable drinking water, now and in the future. Risk management

Role of information

How organisations work together
Selection of councils

Ministry for the Environment

Ministry of Health
Optimising demand and supply How local authorities develop strategies to balance demand for and supply of drinking water to ensure adequacy of drinking-water supply on a financially sustainable basis, now and in the future. Role of information

Innovation and good practice

Making decisions about investment
Selection of councils
FreshwaterFreshwater
Quality management The progress Waikato, Taranaki, Horizons, and Southland Regional Councils have made in managing impacts to their freshwater quality since our last audit in 2011. Role of information

Balancing competing interests and priorities

How organisations work together

Working with iwi/Māori

Capability and capacity of local authorities to address challenges
Waikato, Taranaki, Horizons, and Southland Regional Councils
Clean-up spending How the Ministry for the Environment selects and monitors the performance of the organisations that it funds to improve and recover water quality.

Whether Crown funding delivers measurable and sustainable improvements in water quality at a reasonable cost.
Investment decision-making

Role of information

How organisations work together
Ministry for the Environment

Lake Taupo Protection Trust

Waikato River Authority

Potentially, MPI Irrigation Acceleration Fund

And others
Monitoring irrigation How effective the Resource Management (Measurement and Reporting of Water Takes) Regulations 2010 have been in creating opportunities for better and more efficient use of water. Role of information

Innovation and good practice
Marlborough District Council

Canterbury Regional Council

Northland Regional Council

Hawke's Bay Regional Council

Bay of Plenty Regional Council
StormwaterStormwater
Reducing the effects of flooding How well local authorities are managing their stormwater networks to reduce flood risk, with a focus on setting attainable and affordable levels of service in consultation with their communities. Role of information

Making decisions about investment

How organisations work together

Capability and capacity
Selection of councils
Marine environmentMarine environment
Reserve proposals The decision-making processes for considering whether to designate marine reserve status for a body of water. Innovation and good practice

Balancing competing interests and priorities

How organisations work together

Working with iwi/Māori
Department of Conservation

Ministry for Primary Industries

Ministry for the Environment
Spatial plan for the Hauraki Gulf How one multi-sector group is trying to balance competing water issues through taking a place-based approach to addressing the pressures on an area of national significance – the Hauraki Gulf. Balancing competing interests and priorities

How organisations work together

Working with iwi/Māori
Ministry for Primary Industries

Department of Conservation

Auckland Council, Hauraki Gulf Forum, Waikato Regional Council

Note: The freshwater icon is a modified version of the creek icon by Dan Hetteix (United States of America), see thenounproject.com.
Note: The stormwater icon is a modified version of the flood icon by Iconathon (United States of America), see thenounproject.com.
Note: The marine environment icon is a modified version of the coral icon by Freepik, see flaticon.com.

Details of our work programme

4.2
Under each section that follows, we provide a broad overview of the legislative framework and roles and responsibilities for water management.

4.3
Central government has roles and responsibilities for setting strategic priorities, developing policy and standards, enacting legislation, providing funding, conducting research, and monitoring and reporting on the activity of councils.

4.4
New Zealand has a decentralised system of environmental governance, meaning that most policies are implemented at the regional and local levels. Councils respond to and implement the frameworks set by central government by:

  • establishing their own standards in keeping with Government regulation (through, for example, regional plans) to manage water use and activities that can affect water;
  • giving consent to different activities; and
  • monitoring and enforcing compliance with the standards they set and the consents they grant.

4.5
Councils are also responsible for delivering three waters services to their communities. Councils set the levels of service they aim to meet when delivering these services, in consultation with their communities, and they make investment decisions that are reflected in their 10-year long-term plans under the Local Government Act 2002.

4.6
Central and local government organisations gather information about water and its use, measure and report on their performance in carrying out these roles, and engage with the public in their decision-making processes.

Delivering a safe and reliable drinking-water supply

4.7
Four main Acts set the legislative framework for drinking-water supply – the Health Act 1956, the Local Government Act 2002, the Building Act 2004, and the Resource Management Act 1991.

4.8
New Zealand applies the internationally accepted "multiple barrier" approach to manage the risk of contamination in the water supply – this involves protecting the water source, treating the water taken, and ensuring that water does not get contaminated before reaching people's taps.

4.9
The administration or implementation of legislation aimed at delivering safe drinking water is mainly carried out by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry for the Environment, councils, and district health boards.

4.10
The Ministry of Health is responsible for the regulation of public health, including the overview of drinking-water supplies, to ensure that the water from these supplies can be consumed without causing illness. The Ministry administers the drinking-water provisions of the Health Act 1956 and develops and administers the Drinking-water Standards for New Zealand 2005 (revised 2008) (the drinking-water standards) that set public health standards for drinking-water quality and criteria for checking the performance of water suppliers.

4.11
The Ministry for the Environment is responsible for the development and administration of the National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water (NES), a regulation under the Resource Management Act 1991. The NES requires regional councils to ensure that effects of activities on drinking-water sources are considered in decisions about resource consents and regional plans.

4.12
City and district councils are responsible for the supply of drinking water to a significant proportion of the country's population. The Ministry of Health's annual report on drinking-water quality finds about 3.8 million New Zealanders (out of a population of 4.7 million) are on networked water (including council, community, and private water supplies).15 Councils take the water from source, treat it if need be to remove risks or contaminants, then distribute it to consumers through a reticulation system made up of pipes, water storage facilities (reservoirs), and other components up to the property boundary. Under the drinking-water standards, councils are expected to test the water regularly to show that it is safe.

4.13
In their capacity of drinking-water suppliers, councils are required to prepare a water safety plan for water supplies serving more than 500 people. The purpose of a water safety plan is to identify the public health risks associated with the drinking-water supply, identify the critical points on the supply, and identify mechanisms to both prevent risks arising and reduce or eliminate risks that do arise.

4.14
Some councils have contracted out the operational and maintenance services, while others have set up council-controlled organisations to manage water supply – Watercare Services Limited in Auckland and Wellington Water Limited (owned by Wellington City, Hutt City, Upper Hutt City, and Porirua City Councils, and Greater Wellington Regional Council).

4.15
District health boards ensure, through drinking-water assessors, that city and district councils are maintaining appropriate water quality. In a serious health risk situation, the Medical Officer of Health may serve a compliance order to require a water supplier to stop (or not start) doing anything that may create a health risk from the water supply.

4.16
The Ministry publishes, on its website, an annual report on the quality of drinking water, including compliance with the drinking water provisions of the Health Act 1956 and the drinking-water standards for New Zealand.

4.17
We will be carrying out two performance audits to look at different aspects of delivering a safe and reliable drinking-water supply:

  • protecting the sources of drinking water; and
  • optimising drinking-water demand and supply.

Drinking water 1: Protecting the sources of drinking water

4.18
Having access to safe and reliable drinking water is core to human health and economic well-being. A good-quality drinking-water supply brings many direct and indirect benefits to communities and the country by helping to prevent the outbreak and spread of waterborne diseases.

4.19
Protecting the source water is possibly the most important step for effectively managing the risk of water supply contamination. This is because it reduces the contaminants that subsequent water treatment has to remove.

4.20
There are several organisations with a role in source protection. Regional councils ensure that the effects of activities on drinking water sources are considered in decisions on resource consents and regional plans in terms of the National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water (NES). The Ministry for the Environment is responsible for administering the NES, which are regulations made under the Resource Management Act 1991.16 The NES came into effect on 20 June 2008. The Ministry for the Environment developed guidance materials to support implementation of the NES (although one document is still in draft form), and has indicated its intention to conduct a review of the implementation and effectiveness of the NES in 2017/18.

4.21
We decided to focus on source protection because information about compliance with the drinking-water standards (see paragraph 4.10) is publicly and widely available through the Ministry of Health's website and the website of Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited. Councils also publish their water-supply monitoring and compliance information. Information about compliance with the NES is not as accessible and transparent.

4.22
This topic will enable us to consider councils' approaches to risk management, the role of information in managing risk, and how organisations work together to achieve a shared outcome.

What will we look at?

4.23
We are interested in understanding how effective councils' activities are in ensuring the protection of drinking-water supply sources. Our focus may include:

  • regional councils' consent decision-making and plan-making activities in relation to their compliance with the NES;
  • the Ministry for the Environment's role in monitoring the implementation of the NES;
  • the practices used to protect the integrity of drinking-water sources; and
  • how well organisations are working together to ensure the effective protection of drinking water sources.

Drinking water 2: Optimising drinking-water demand and supply

4.24
Councils use a variety of tools and methods to balance demand for, and supply of, drinking water to ensure that they can deliver a safe water supply in a financially sustainable manner. Climate change and changing demographics will have an increasing influence on how councils achieve this balance, along with the need to deliver sustainable water supply services.

4.25
Councils need to strike a balance between demand and supply, and identify the optimal approach to adopt, so that their communities are not investing too early or too late in new infrastructure.

4.26
In 2010, we reported on how well councils were planning to meet the forecast demand for drinking water. Our report was based on a performance audit of eight councils. We followed up this work in 2012, looking at the extent to which councils in general have responded to the recommendations in our 2010 report. We found that the main challenge was in providing security of supply for the years ahead.

4.27
Councils are required to prepare infrastructure strategies setting out how they will manage their infrastructure assets. In preparing these strategies, they are required to take into account the need to provide for the resilience of infrastructure assets by identifying and managing risks from natural hazards and making appropriate provision for those risks.

4.28
This work will allow us to consider how councils use information and make investment decisions. It will also enable us to talk about the importance of demand-management strategies to the timing of infrastructure reinvestment and any innovative approaches being applied in balancing demand and supply.

What will we look at?

4.29
We will look at how a selection of councils prepare their strategies to balance demand and supply of drinking water.

4.30
We will also consider how they are addressing resilience issues through their long-term planning processes.

Managing freshwater

4.31
Freshwater management responsibilities primarily fall on the Ministry for the Environment, which sets the policy and regulatory framework, and the regional councils that implement this framework. Other agencies involved are the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment.

4.32
In 2011, the Minister for the Environment released the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, which directs regional councils, in consultation with their communities, to set objectives and limits to maintain or improve the quality of water in lakes, rivers, wetlands, and aquifers. This was updated in 2014 to introduce national standards for freshwater quality.

4.33
The latest government work programme to improve New Zealand freshwater management is the Clean Water Package 2017 (the Clean Water Package), which was consulted on from February to May 2017. The Clean Water Package proposed a national target of 90% of rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040, changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, and criteria for the Freshwater Improvement Fund. Changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management were confirmed on 7 August 2017.

4.34
The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management also now incorporates Te Mana o te Wai – an expression of the cultural significance of water:

Te Mana o te Wai represents the innate relationship between te hauora o te wai (the health and mauri of water) and te hauora o te taiao (the health and mauri of the environment), and their ability to support each other, while sustaining te hauora o te tāngata (the health and mauri of the people).

4.35
Together, the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries are responsible for co-leading the policy initiatives to deliver the Clean Water Package.

4.36
The Ministry for Primary Industries is responsible for administering the Irrigation Acceleration Fund, which provides government funds for irrigation schemes. The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment is responsible for administering the National Science Challenge, which includes research to enhance primary sector productivity to meet future demands while protecting water quality and recognising environmental constraints.

4.37
Two Crown Research Institutes – Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited (ESR) and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Limited (NIWA) – conduct research into freshwater. ESR specialises in science about people and communities, including improving the safety of freshwater and groundwater resources, while NIWA's role focuses on enhancing the economic value and sustainable management of New Zealand's environment.

4.38
Regional councils' primary roles and responsibilities in managing freshwater are under the Resource Management Act 1991, including implementing the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, through their regional planning documents, and giving consent for discharges to water and land, and water takes.

4.39
City and district councils are responsible for managing land use. They set the urban growth agenda by developing rules for where and what development can occur – the location and type of development affects waterways through, for example, sedimentation from earthworks and run-off from more hard surfaces and roads.

Freshwater 1: Progress since 2011 in managing the quality of freshwater

4.40
The quality of water in New Zealand's rivers and lakes is increasingly a cause of public concern. In 2011, we released an audit report on management of freshwater quality in four regions (Taranaki, Waikato, Manawatu-Wanganui, and Southland), identifying various shortcomings. Since then, the Government has introduced the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (see paragraph 4.32), which requires regional councils to establish objectives and limits for freshwater quality and quantity in line with community values.

4.41
This work will enable us to consider how organisations balance competing interests and priorities and work with others in addressing freshwater quality. The work will also allow us to look at the role of information and the capability and capacity of councils to address freshwater quality challenges.

What will we look at?

4.42
We will look at how well the four regional councils we audited in 2011 are managing their freshwater quality. Our work will revisit important aspects of our 2011 work, in the context of a new regulatory environment. It will also look at how regional councils have changed and adapted their management approaches since 2011, and identify any difficulties they might have encountered.

Freshwater 2: Spending on cleaning up significant waterways

4.43
Since 2000, several hundreds of millions of dollars of Crown funds have been spent on initiatives to improve and recover water quality in significant water bodies in New Zealand. This is a significant part of the Government's approach to managing freshwater. The Ministry for the Environment has been responsible for funding these initiatives either directly, or indirectly through other parties (such as regional councils, entities established as part of Treaty settlements, and community organisations), who then fund the providers of specific initiatives.

4.44
If the Ministry's procurement processes and/or the subsequent service delivery are sub-optimal, there is the potential for public funds allocated to improving or recovering water quality to be wasted, and for slower or ineffective improvements in water quality.

4.45
The work should be of interest beyond the environment sector, to any organisations involved in procurement/contract management/grant funding, especially where there is a time lag between funding and outcomes. We can also share any good practice we find.

What will we look at?

4.46
We will look at the Ministry for the Environment's procurement, monitoring, contract management, relationship management, and reporting processes. This will involve reviewing monitoring and accountability reports on selected projects; discussions with project managers, governors, and funded organisations; and observations and reviews of new Freshwater Improvement Fund decision-making processes.

4.47
We are considering contrasting the approach taken to funding projects under the Irrigation Acceleration Fund.

Freshwater 3: Monitoring how water is used for irrigation

4.48
From 10 November 2016, all consented taking of water that happens at a rate of 5 litres each second or more is required to be measured and recorded – see the Resource Management (Measurement and Reporting of Water Takes) Regulations 2010. Theoretically, this should create a valuable data set to help manage water as a resource.

4.49
Reliable information and data is required for ensuring that the water resource is managed as effectively, efficiently, and fairly as possible, given its limited nature (at certain locations and times of the year) and the increasing demand for it.

4.50
An increase in the use of irrigation, the significant amount of freshwater allocated to irrigation, government investment in irrigation, and negative perceptions about the effects of irrigation on the environment were among our reasons for choosing this topic.

4.51
Current information about use appears patchy and fragmented between various irrigation schemes and regulatory agencies, without this information being unified for better decisions about allocation and investment. The decision to focus on metering is because measurement is fundamental to the management of resources.

4.52
Through our work on irrigation we will consider the role information plays and provide examples of innovation in the gathering and use of data in water management.

What will we look at?

4.53
We will look at how effective the implementation of water metering has been to create opportunities for better and more efficient use of water.

Managing stormwater networks

4.54
Stormwater networks collect and take to the shore or safely disperse the rainwater that runs off from private property, public reserves, and roads. The main function of a stormwater network is to protect people and property from flooding by transporting water through a piped network (the drainage network) and/or to designated overland flow paths (where the water is designed to go when the piped network cannot cope; for example, roads and parks).

4.55
The main Acts dealing with flood risk and stormwater management are the Resource Management Act 1991, the Local Government Act 2002, and the Building Act 2004.

4.56
Under the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Local Government Act 2002, councils set regional and local policies for managing flood risks and stormwater through their long-term plans, regional policy statements, regional plans, and district plans. That policy direction is implemented through asset and flood management plans and the provision of flood, river management, stormwater, and drainage infrastructure.

4.57
Three Acts (the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941, the River Boards Act 1908, and the Land Drainage Act 1908) empower councils to address flooding and drainage issues through physical works, such as constructing stopbanks, maintaining and clearing channels, and draining land.

4.58
Land-use controls to reduce flood risk and the use of soil conservation practices, such as planting in erosion-prone catchments, are covered by the Resource Management Act 1991, the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941, and the Building Act 2004.

4.59
Roles and responsibilities for flood risk management are divided:

  • Central government focuses on assisting communities to prepare and recover from large events (civil defence), providing local government with the necessary powers, funding the science system, and providing weather forecasts and warnings.
  • Regional councils and city and district councils carry out the daily management and funding of flood risk management, in consultation with the local community. Regional councils are responsible for flood protection activities and catchment (river) management. City and district councils are responsible for land use management and the management of stormwater networks.

Stormwater 1: Managing stormwater networks to reduce the effects of flooding

4.60
Flooding is New Zealand's most frequent natural hazard. Flooding creates significant economic, environmental, and social costs. Climate change and increasing urbanisation are expected to increase the risk of flooding in the years ahead.

4.61
Managing stormwater networks is important in managing the risk of flooding. However, the investment in these networks is typically lower than the investment councils make in their water supply and wastewater networks. Urban stormwater is often referred to as the "poor cousin" of the three waters.

4.62
We expect our work to be of interest to councils and the wider public sector, particularly any comments we might make about organisations' roles in understanding and managing risk, how they make investment decisions, and how organisations work together. We will share examples of innovation and best practice, and identify any capability and capacity issues.

What will we look at?

4.63
We are interested in understanding the approaches that councils use to establish attainable and affordable levels of service to protect people and property from flooding. We will focus on urban stormwater network management.

Managing the marine environment

4.64
Our marine environment comprises the territorial sea from the shore out to 12 nautical miles, the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from 12 to 200 nautical miles from the shore, and the continental shelf (the area where New Zealand's submerged landmass extends beyond the EEZ). New Zealand has one of the largest EEZ areas in the world, covering more than four million square kilometres. This is more than 20 times the size of New Zealand.

4.65
The Ministry for the Environment is responsible for developing environmental policy and administering the legislation and regulations applying to the EEZ and territorial sea. This includes the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 and the Resource Management Act 1991.

4.66
Under the Resource Management Act 1991, the Department of Conservation is responsible for administering the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, which promotes the sustainable management of the natural and physical resources of the foreshore, seabed, coastal water, and airspace from the high tide mark to the 12 nautical mile limit. The Department of Conservation is responsible for New Zealand's marine reserves and marine mammals. Marine protected areas are an important tool in ensuring that marine biodiversity is maintained in a healthy state.

4.67
Regional councils are responsible under the Resource Management Act 1991 for managing the effects of activities on the environment in territorial waters. The Environmental Protection Authority is responsible for managing the effects of specified restricted activities in the EEZ and the continental shelf.

4.68
The Ministry for Primary Industries is responsible for the management of fisheries and aquaculture and biosecurity. The Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation have joint responsibility for developing and implementing the Marine Protected Areas Policy. The Government consulted on a Marine Protected Areas Bill in January-March 2016 but this has not progressed into law.

4.69
We will carry out two performance audits that will explore how central and local government manage competing priorities and interests in the marine environment:

  • how proposals for marine reserves are considered; and
  • marine spatial planning in the Hauraki Gulf.

Marine environment 1: How proposals for marine reserves are considered

4.70
Although the public generally supports the concept of marine protection, people can oppose specific marine reserve proposals when they consider that their interests or perceived rights will be adversely affected.

4.71
The Government released a Marine Protected Areas policy in 2005 that provides the main framework for establishing marine reserves. The framework was designed to be inclusive and transparent. The policy led to the creation of regionally based collaborative groups responsible for considering marine protection in their region, including the possibility of proposing marine reserves.

4.72
The objective of the Marine Protected Areas policy is to protect marine biodiversity by establishing a network of protected areas that is comprehensive and representative of New Zealand's marine habitats and ecosystems. Marine reserves are considered a core tool in the development of that representative network.

4.73
The decision about whether a marine reserve proposal is accepted is, in effect, prioritising access to, and the use of, a particular body of water and its resources. Consequently, the decision-making process for designating marine reserves needs to consider various rights and perspectives on what can be a contentious matter.

4.74
Our work will focus on how the public sector balances competing priorities and interests and works with others.

What will we look at?

4.75
We will consider the processes used to consider marine reserve proposals that led to recommendations to Ministers about whether to designate marine reserve status to a body of water.

Marine environment 2: Marine spatial planning for the Hauraki Gulf

4.76
We are interested in understanding how competing interests are balanced in the marine environment. We will use the case study of marine spatial planning in the Hauraki Gulf to explore these issues.

4.77
The organisations involved in the marine spatial planning are the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Department of Conservation, along with Auckland Council, Waikato Regional Council, and the Hauraki Gulf Forum.

What will we look at?

4.78
We are interested in the process to develop and implement this first attempt at a marine spatial plan in New Zealand. We will highlight any lessons learnt for balancing competing interests in the coastal marine environment, such as aquaculture, fishing, water quality, marine protected areas, cultural values, and recreation.


15: Ministry of Health (2017), Annual Report on Drinking-water Quality 2015-2016, Wellington, page 3.

16: Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Sources of Human Drinking Water) Regulations 2007.

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CoverIntroducing our work programme - Water management

ISBN 978-0-478-44275-5