As a bicultural country, New Zealand recognises the language, cultures, and traditions of both the Māori and Pākehā (British settlers) cultures.
The New Zealand Government Act 2002 provides a process for consultation with the Māori and to seek their views on any proposed changes to local authority structure and boundaries.
The government’s ongoing proposal to reform its three waters is also facilitated by engaging with the iwi/Māori as the Crown’s Treaty Partner.
Local councils face many challenges to their three-water system – drinking water, stormwater, and wastewater. Many of its pipes are at the end of their useful lives, climate change threats, cost of funding, and complying with the safety and environmental standards.
The government proposes consolidating the current 67 councils owned and operated water system into a small number of multi-regional entities to efficiently address water system challenges and lift significant financial pressures off from local councils.
A robust regulatory oversight will ensure the services are run at lower costs to the community. These proposals are still in the development and consultation phase at the time of writing.
Troy Brockbank’s article shares how Te Mana o te Wai’s principle, a Māori’s water concept, can guide the government’s treatment and management of its three waters.
Under the Te Mana o te Wai principle, water is regarded as a most precious resource – the blood of the earth, as blood is to our body, so is the water to the earth – life is impossible without it. It uses a holistic approach to freshwater founded on indigenous knowledge. Protecting the health of freshwater also protects the wellbeing of the environment and the wider community.
What is unique to the Māori’s perspective is that water has a value on its own apart from its functions. The health of the water comes before and above the people’s needs, such as drinking water.
But this does not mean that water needs to be restored first to its pristine condition before it can be used, but that water should be valued in and of itself rather than a resource subjected to exploitation.
Valuing water in and of itself means having a framework to show that we care for her and apply practices to make her healthy across all aspects of water use from extraction, supply, use, and discharge.
The article gives three examples of how the Te Mana o te Wai principles are applied to wastewater treatment and stormwater treatment.
The proposed Rotorua Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade is a good example of how effluent is treated – passing through a series of rock walls before being discharged to a body of water.
Another example is removing mortuary waste in the wastewater networks in Gisborne, a culturally abhorrent practice for Māori.
Instead, it treats the wastewater using a mound system similar to what the Native Americans are using and consistent with the Te Mana o te Wai principles.
Lastly, the ongoing transition from traditional stormwater practices to water sensitive design practices (WSD) applies the Urban Water Principles and consistent with the Te Mana o te Wai principles.
The Urban Water Principle is developed by a group of urban water management convened by the Ministry of the Environment to guide decision-making and promote the creation of water-sensitive urban spaces.
It is a holistic approach to land and water asset management and its relationship with the ecosystems, the community’s wellbeing, resilience, and intergenerational equity, values that the Māori culture holds dear.