Watershed moment: From misunderstanding to transformation

Jun 14, 2023

Te Rūnaka o Arowhenua and Timaru District Council have transformed the way in which they collaborate on stormwater management.

So good has the collaboration become that the Rūnaka, the council and their representatives have received national recognition. Among those recognised is Aoraki Environmental Consultancy (AEC), which provides environmental planning and policy advice on behalf of Arowhenua.

AEC, along with the Council and its consultants WSP and Pattle Delamore Partners, jointly received Paper of the year at the 2023 Stormwater New Zealand Conference.

AEC general manager Ally Crane says she is enormously proud of all involved.

“The work AEC have done with Timaru District Council has been recognised as ground-breaking and raises the bar on how consents for stormwater can be addressed.”

She says perseverance and determination paid off, with the process leading to Rūnaka being directly engaged alongside the Council in both monitoring and decision making.

AEC environmental policy adviser Treena Davidson says the award is especially pleasing for two reasons.

“First, we understand this is the first time a paper co-authored with mana whenua has won an award. Secondly, and please excuse the pun, this was a watershed moment for the way in which Rūnaka and local government can work together on stormwater management.”

Treena Davidson says early misunderstandings turned into a significant learning moment and ultimately transformative change as the stormwater management plan, which covers Temuka, Pleasant Point, Waitarakao, and Timaru was developed.

She says the two parties had “vastly different starting points” and were “banging heads” in some uncomfortable early meetings, but eventually significant learning took place. The AEC Kaitiaki cultural consultants played a crucial role in explaining the mana whenua perspective.

The district council team worked hard to gain cultural understanding and build enduring and mana-enhancing relationships with mana whenua.

“Recognising those different starting points was crucial. For us, it’s not what you see; It’s what you don’t see. We are now talking and figuring out how restoring these areas could be supported. Ultimately, all parties recognise the vital importance of water and share a common desire of Kotahitanga – unity in purpose – to protect and improve our rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands.”

Treena Davidson says AEC brought in Dr Jane Kitson, a specialist in the space between Mātauranga Māori and western science.

“She deserves so much credit for helping us set up a genuine partnership with the council and fostering an understanding that Mātauranga Māori and western science can be informed by one another.

Dr Kitson helped the parties explore concepts such as Mahinga Kai in the context of science and monitoring, learning that it means more than just the protection of historic food gathering sites.