There is nothing more fundamental than being able to gather kai for the whānau, but that basic right has been under increasing threat in recent years from the rush to exploit Canterbury’s fresh water resources.
The debate on water management, mainly between intensive farming interests and environmentalists and recreationalists, has been very public and often ugly. In the heated and well-documented discussions, however, it seemed a strong Māori voice was missing, or perhaps just not being heard.
Until recently, Ngāi Tahu whānau, many with intense customary interest in their streams, rivers, estuaries and lakes, have had little influence in the management of waterways, other than the required consultation.
That is changing. Rūnanga representatives around the Canterbury rohe are at last becoming fully involved in setting the rules for the management of Canterbury’s declining waterways.
It has taken a radical new consensus approach called the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) to bring this about.
While our waterways have been nowhere near pristine for decades, over the last 15 years or so the problem has been exacerbated through widespread farm intensification, and the corresponding high demand for irrigation water. Water quality and the amount of water have declined in many of the region’s waterways.
For years the system of managing water takes has been basically a first-come, first served, adversarial approach, administered by Environment Canterbury (ECan). But in recent years that system has come under extreme pressure from rapid economic development, in particular the rush to dairy farming.
Environmental values deteriorated, mahinga kai areas were threatened, and water resources for agriculture were over-allocated in many areas as ECan struggled to keep up with the fast-changing situation.
It is hard to imagine anything but further deterioration under that system; because Canterbury has around 500,000 ha of land under irrigation, with 1.3 million ha identified as suitable for irrigation.
Before it came into effect in 2009, the CWMS had a 10-year gestation as the framework for this new approach was hammered out under the leadership of the Canterbury Mayoral Forum.
The CWMS hinges on community consensus decisions on how their local water resources should be managed into the future. The process operates under the wing of ECan commissioners, brought in by the Government in 2010 to replace elected councillors, specifically to sort the region’s water issues out.
Under the strategy, the region has been split into 10 geographic zone committees and one regional committee. The latter will deal with wider issues common to all areas.
Each of these committees has been expected to produce an implementation plan for their area in very short time, using a collaborative approach. Ngāi Tahu as tangata whenua have strong representation on all the committees.
Over the last year or so rūnanga representatives from across Canterbury have spent long hours sitting around the table with farmers, environmentalists, recreationists, and local and regional government officials trying to figure out a new approach to water management for each of their areas. Make that two years for the Hurunui/Waiau zone committee.
How have they fared, and is this model the answer to our water problems?
Raewyn Solomon (Ngāti Kurī) and Makarini Rupene (Ngāi Tūāhuriri) represent their respective runanga on the Hurunui-Waiau Zone Committee, and Te Marino Lenihan (Ngāi Tūāhuriri) has sat with the Hurunui -Waiau Zone Committee since its inception and now represents North Canterbury Ngāi Tahu on the CWMS regional committee.
TE KARAKA sat in on one of their discussions at Te Marino’s place at Tahunaroa / Pines Beach, at the mouth of the Waimakariri River. The Hurunui-Waiau Zone Committee has been something of a guinea pig for the whole scheme because it was the first committee established, the first to produce a draft plan, and is an area with a big irrigation project looming.
“I think the good thing about the CWMS is that it has bought us to the table as rūnanga reps and given us a voice and an input,” Makarini says.
Yes, but are they taken seriously? They all smile wryly and Raewyn takes up the story.
“I think there’s a realisation we’re not going anywhere. There’s a table we can actually go to now and air all that stuff. I think it’s timely.”
Under the existing Resource Management Act (RMA) process there was no place for these types of conversations, she says.
“It takes far more than the RMA to manage water sustainably. The RMA can’t really do anything about people’s attitudes to water or habitat. It takes conversations, education and a receptiveness to other people’s values to manage water so that everybody and everything can benefit in an equitable way. That’s why it is critical to have spaces that allow for these types of conversations. The CWMS is designed to provide space for those types of conversations.”
Raewyn, Makarini and Te Marino all have strong whānau connections to local waterways and mahinga kai going back to childhood.
Makarini wants to bring his kids up the same way he was, and that is what has motivated him to become involved in the CWMS process.
“Most holidays we’ll go to some part of the island and take the children to gather whatever mahinga kai there is. We do that three to five times a year.”
Those places include Kaikōura, the Waipara, the Ashley, Motunau, Ōnuku, Wairewa, Wainui and Koukourarata.
Makarini says mahinga kai is at the heart of his family’s culture, and of many other Ngāi Tahu families.
“I think it’s a great source of pride for our people. It was the thing that united all of our people under a cloak of common sense, common culture, common good.”
The group has noticed waterways deteriorating.
Raewyn: “My dad was a fisherman, and one of the rivers (Stony Creek near Kaikōura) he eeled all the time has dried up.
“For me I guess I don’t feel like I’ve succeeded in my profession if there’s no water in rivers. That’s really our measure.
“It just limits us further. Our mahinga kai lifestyle has come under increasing threat from the imposition of the agricultural lifestyle. Being brought up as a hunter-gatherer motivates you. It’s pretty fundamental to teach your children how to get kai – basically that’s what it comes down to.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful way of life. You don’t realise it as you’re growing up, but when you become an adult you realise how important it is.”
Makarini says there has been noticeable pollution of waterways since he grew up. “It was passed on from my pōua that we didn’t fish certain areas because of the pollution.
“The Kaiapoi River’s pretty lousy, and so is the Waimakariri. They are still awa used for collecting mahinga kai, and there still are a lot of families that have to go at certain times of the season to gather from them.”
How good is the CWMS collaborative approach?
Raewyn: “I think the most challenging thing is that it is really hard to find a balance when the playing field doesn’t start level, and it is exacerbated when some don’t realise that the playing field isn’t level.
“That coupled with the fact that people and governments have, and are strongly geared towards agriculture. Agriculture is necessary because the world needs food, but when it’s at the expense of our mahinga kai, our food, our way of life, well that’s another story.”
Te Marino says the key is being able to talk to different sectors of the community and reach a better understanding. “Our people have been the quiet corner of the community, and it seems people either don’t know about us, don’t want to know about us, or are straight out ill-informed about who we are and where the heart and soul of our culture lies.
“So we get a chance to tell our stories and share our experiences – real life, growing-up-from-childhood experiences – and people get a better understanding and appreciation that the playing field is not level and that we don’t all start from the same point in time.
“For me this a good first step, but realistically I don’t expect to be able to level the playing field in my lifetime.”
Te Marino has a strong belief that working towards evening things up will be of benefit to the whole community.
“It’s not just Māori looking after Māori interests here. We’ve learnt that if we look after those fundamental things around us, they will look after us and our children after us.”
The biggest challenge so far for these three Ngāi Tahu representatives has been the time commitment and the amount of reading necessary.
Raewyn says the 15 months producing the Hurunui-Waiau zone draft plan was a real challenge. Because they were the first committee to do it, because there was no precedent and because it was a consensus system, meetings would simply carry on until agreement was reached.
She says it was an “intense year” with six-hour meetings turning into nine and even 12-hour sessions, and 500-page reports to read with very little notice.
Makarini: “We really did have to thrash things out, and that would create extra meetings on extra meetings to make sure we did all have a good general understanding.”
That doesn’t mean they agreed with everything in the plan they signed off. One they had to swallow was the fact that the committee raised irrigation to a first-order priority for the Hurunui-Waiau zone, whereas the overall CWMS has it as a second-order priority.
While that reflects the balance of values on the Hurunui-Waiau committee, Raewyn feels it sends a (wrong) signal that irrigation is as important as the environment.
“It’s not like I agree with everything in the ZIP (zone implementation plan),” she says. “I’ve had to give up some things but we got it as balanced as we could.”
On the other hand, Te Marino says he has grown to appreciate that stored water facilities can deliver benefits to Ngāi Tahu values,
especially when the local environment is already heavily degraded.
“Dams need to be designed so that they add value to all key interests. It can’t just be about growing grass and generating electricity. Water quality and biodiversity have to be protected and enhanced or my kids may never get to swim in or eat out of our rivers. Commercial use of water must come with clear responsibilities to look after that water – in stream and on the land.”
As a result, they supported the latest option for a big irrigation project in the Hurunui area, which will look to dam a tributary of the Hurunui River (Waitohi), not either of its main stems.
While there was never any opposition to the Māori view in the committee, Raewyn feels there was defensiveness. “I noticed, especially from members of the farming community, that perhaps they were thinking that we would automatically blame them, and to a certain point I did. Then I realised that blame is a barrier to progress, we can go on blaming all we want, but it can be a red herring and detract from any outcome we want to achieve. The issues should be on the table at the outset, and then we move on. When we expend effort blaming, it’s less effort going into the environment.
“I think a lot of them have realised that many of the values we talk about are the same as theirs; we just use different words.”
One intriguing aspect of this story is the fact that Ngāi Tahu Property has plans for large-scale, irrigated dairy farming in North Canterbury. “A lot of the time that was the elephant in the room,” Raewyn says.
All three have been working as closely as possible with Ngāi Tahu Property’s proposed farming developments. “We can’t undertake farming and do it the same as everyone else,” Raewyn says. “We’ve been their biggest critics. So we have to try and show the way and we have to be committed to step up to the challenge.” On the CWMS regional committee with Te Marino are Craig Pauling (Ngāi Te Ruahikihiki) and John Wilkie (Kāti Huirapa, Ngāti Hāteatea) who represent mid and south Canterbury Ngāi Tahu respectively. Together with the other committee members, they have prioritised four out of the 10 target issues under the strategy: kaitiakitanga (guardianship), ecosystem health and biodiversity, land use and water quality, and regional infrastructure.
Te Marino says one of the ways they explained kaitiakitanga to the rest of the committee was: “Guardianship is about rights and responsibilities. If you’re going to have a right to something then you’re going to have to take responsibility too. No responsibility, no right.
“I’ve been told that farmers are generally only concerned about what happens inside their own gates. But this [CWMS] process has allowed us to promote a broader ki uta ki tai [mountains to the sea] perspective that connects the up-stream guys with those down-stream.”
One overriding issue that has probably helped the CWMS process get off to a speedy, strong start was the Government’s controversial replacement of elected ECan councillors with commissioners in 2010.
Up till then ECan had failed to get strong and timely planning processes in place, in the face of rapid irrigation development. The new commissioners have been given extra powers to do the job.
“ECan commissioners have been a blessing in disguise,” says Te Marino. “It’s taken the biggest political animal out of Canterbury’s waterways , and it’s really pushed us all to get our act sorted out.”
Raewyn: “The commissioners were a critical move as far as Ngāi Tahu is concerned. Coming in when they did meant that the CWMS process could be supported by a fresh regime that would govern how an organisation, with a chequered history of water management, would support the zone committee process including the RMA planning process.”
So is the CWMS the way of the future for water management in New Zealand?
“I actually do think it’s the way of the future,” Raewyn says. “ I think people need to take responsibility. It needs to be both an individual and collective responsibility, this is why the Kaitiakitanga description in our ZIP, is honed in such a way.
“Essentially we all need to take responsibility.”