Māori Anxious about the Future of Water

By Piripi Taylor

Reforms on how drinking water will be regulated is at the forefront of the annual Water NZ Conference and Expo in Hamilton this week. 
Water NZ’s Principal Advisor Water Quality for, Jim Graham says the industry is taking a positive look at the reforms while trying to fully understand what any impacts could be.

"It's made people I suspect a little bit nervous because there are so many unknowns”.

Environment Ministers, David Parker and Nanaia Mahuta updated the sector on the three waters policy announcement by the government in July, a system overhaul to improve the regulation of wastewater and stormwater systems. Small water suppliers such as schools and marae will now come under the new regulatory system. 

Mahuta says the government is looking into the financial impacts the new regulations will have on marae.

"We are investigating how we can alleviate any costs. We know that there are insurance and rental issues for our marae”.

Supporting and enabling Te Mana o Te Wai (Ministry for the Environment) concerning Māori philosophies around water and upholding the Treaty of Waitangi is significant in the reforms. Mahuta, who is also the Minister for Local Government, acknowledges the need for improvements within that sector to better acknowledge kawa and mātaraunga of mana whenua in different rohe.

"They know the time has come to broaden their view to include Māori thinking in how to care for our rivers, our ocean and our lakes", says Mahuta.

"Aside from that, the challenge for some of our councils is around how to facilitate the involvement of kaitiaki from within their communities. It is quite an undertaking for them to realise those aspirations”.

Those in the water sector confess they have not engaged well with Māori in the past.

Troy Brockbank from WSP Opus say engagement is quite complex.

"The world views are very different and narratives about water are very different," he says. So there is a lot to do to bridge those narratives".

Graham acknowledges how they now have Māori representation on the board of Water NZ. 

"We're taking the initiative to improve our relationship and engagement with Māori because we see, as tangata whenua, Māori have a very critical role in anything to do with water as a taonga and we see that as well".

The Three Waters Review will run in tandem with the Government's wider Essential Freshwater programme, led by the Minister for the Environment.