Water forms a huge part of our everyday lives. That’s why successful community engagement in water management makes great sense.

We drink it, bathe in it, cook with it, gather from it, and revere it. So, it makes sense that when it comes to effective water management, it’s not always about design drawings and calculations. It’s also about getting stakeholders, like the local community, involved. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing in New Zealand where the importance of stakeholder involvement in water management, especially with regards to Māori, is growing.

By involving stakeholders in planning infrastructure, more collaborative and innovative approaches to water management have been created. Māori have a special cultural and spiritual relationship with water and regard it as a taonga (treasure) to be guarded and protected for current and future generations. With a holistic view of water, and the water cycle, Māori bring their unique views and traditional practices to influence management by local councils of the three waters – drinking water supply, wastewater and stormwater management.

We don’t always recognise that a Māori cultural viewpoint also reflects the views and values held by other parts of the community. A lot of New Zealanders hold special values around water for recreation. Not to mention tourism, and the economic benefits brought by it, which also rely on a pristine environment including water. In advocating for improved water management Māori are effectively advocating for values around water that are held by a much wider group of stakeholders.

Three case studies that were recently presented at the OzWater 2017 water conference exemplify this point. They also demonstrate how the active involvement of communities, especially Māori, in three waters infrastructure management have helped local councils develop cost-effective, culturally-sensitive solutions that produce great results – for everyone.

Read the full white paper written by Kristina Hermens, Garry Macdonald and Greg Offer: Successfully involving community and indigenous groups in water and wastewater infrastructure - the New Zealand way.

The three case studies

Our case studies were undertaken in three diverse regions of New Zealand, spread across both the North and South Island, to reflect the different needs and communities in these areas:

1. Tauranga comprehensive stormwater consent. A coastal city in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty region, known for its white sandy beaches, outdoors lifestyle and abundance of kiwifruit and avocados, is experiencing large population growth. Urban development to cater for this population growth, combined with existing flood issues and a diverse natural environment, means Tauranga faces many stormwater challenges. This case study shows how consideration of the effects on cultural significance and customary practices have been incorporated into consent conditions and operational practices to successfully balance urban development pressure with protection of the environment.

2. East Coast biological trickling filters. Following community and Māori consultation, three cities on New Zealand’s North Island’s East Coast (Gisborne, Napier and Hastings) have installed biological trickling filters to treat wastewater. Now, thanks to this community involvement, the councils and their communities have cost-effective, flexible treatment processes with minimal effect on the marine environment. Customary harvesting of kai moana (shellfish, such as pipi, paua, kina and mussels) by all sections of the community has been reinstated, and the councils have increased the sense of ownership and empowerment within the local community.

3. Akaroa wastewater scheme. Akaroa occupies a beautiful harbour location on the eastern coast of the South Island. When developing a new wastewater scheme for the town, the contrasting values of different sections of the community were brought into sharp focus. Māori cultural concerns centred on the harbour as a food basket. But when you take tourism and other commercial linkages to the harbour into account, the food basket feeds the whole community. Māori sought removal of wastewater from the harbour and reuse on land. Nevertheless finding a land-based alternative to wastewater disposal is proving difficult given limited land and constraints on access. The final option is still undecided. This case study describes how local councils can successfully engage with their stakeholders and work towards culturally-aligned options that benefit everyone.


Successfully involving the community in water management - the New Zealand way

Our conference paper, provides insight into why this approach is reaping positive benefits for local councils and communities across New Zealand. It:

  • Describes how New Zealand uses effects-based national legislation to manage its resources and the environment, and the benefits of this approach.
  • Provides examples showing how communities, particularly Māori, are involved in planning infrastructure.
  • Demonstrates how this can provide very positive outcomes for current and future generations.

Have you been involved in a community consultation – what was your experience of this process? Or, have you involved the community in a project – how did this work for you? Share your story by leaving us a comment below.


Garry Macdonald

Business Director - Water

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Email Garry Macdonald
Greg Offer

Project Director

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Email Greg Offer
Kristina Hermens

Business Director - Three Waters

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Email Kristina Hermens