Collaboration and water management

Hurunui Waiau Water Zone Committee Deputy Chair Ken Hughey

Hurunui Waiau Water Zone Committee Deputy Chair Ken Hughey

Hurunui Waiau Water Zone Committee Deputy Chair Ken Hughey reflects on what it means to participate in water resource management.

I’ve been thinking about collaboration and how it works in water management. I’ve also been thinking about where the zone committee and the community fit into the process.

What collaboration means to me

Collaboration doesn’t mean:

  • I get what I want, all the time.
  • One interest always dominates or gets priority over another.

To me, collaboration includes:

  • Willingness to work together
  • Empathy with others’ views
  • Willingness to participate in a “gifting and gaining” approach.

My time on the committee

During my time on the committee, this has meant:

  • Expanding my knowledge of ecological and recreational needs into other areas
  • Better understanding farmer needs and aspirations, including dryland and irrigated farmers
  • Better understanding and appreciation of Māori needs and aspirations
  • Looking hard for win-win opportunities, especially in relation to farming – biodiversity and conservation, natural resources / mahinga kai and recreation opportunities.

Operating in this contested space is hard work, challenging - and at times mentally draining. But it can lead to great opportunities.

Minimum flows

Amuri Irrigation (AIC) recently gifted a voluntary increase in the minimum flows of the Waiau Uwha River of 1 cumec.

The company gained from that gifting: recognition and thanks from the broader community and they are committing to biodiversity conservation and recreation opportunities.

That gifting is part of a package the zone committee has negotiated in principle with AIC which aims to help address multiple challenges. It’s not perfect - but it is progress.

Package negotiation has exposed the inherent challenge of the collaborative approach – we cannot please all of the people all of the time. But should we?

The "living riverbed” project

Another example we are working on is what I call the “living riverbed” project, linked with Environment Canterbury’s braided rivers work.

The zone committee has in the past pointed out deficiencies in this work, and with part of it no longer progressing there are nevertheless still opportunities for the zone committee to take a lead.

Specifically, we are keen to progress a management plan concentrating on a short reach of the Waiau Uwha River near Spotswood.

We understand the active braided riverbed is a key habitat for nationally threatened and at-risk bird species like the black-fronted tern and wrybill.

We acknowledge it provides recreational opportunities for anglers, jet boaters and kayakers. And we know the water in these channels is fundamental to providing for irrigation needs.

We understand the overall area of active riverbed is declining due to exotic weed growth and incremental encroachment of intensive farming and urban land use protection needs. And above all, we acknowledge that the active river and its margins (and whole catchments) are fundamental to the mauri of the rivers.

We want to address these needs and issues, and see where the opportunities lie. If we could remove exotic vegetation growth from the central, more active riverbeds, we will gain essential bird nesting habitat that is increasingly predator free, enhanced capacity of the river to deliver flood waters to the sea and not over surrounding farmland, and improved mauri.

To do this we need people working together – not always agreeing, but adapting to new knowledge, and believing the process is a committed, mature approach to making things happen.

Waiau river Hurunui

Waiau Uwha River - One of many braided rivers in Canterbury

Making progress

To me, that is the role of the zone committee: to facilitate this collaborative approach. We won’t always get it right but if we get it right most of the time, that’s progress.

The challenge is how to keep some people who struggle with a collaborative approach to “stay in the tent”, or if they won’t, how to convince the remaining majority that it continues to be worth the effort.

About Ken

Ken Hughey is Professor of Environmental Management at Lincoln University and Chief Science Advisor at the Department of Conservation. He has been a member of the Hurunui Waiau Zone Committee since 2010.

He has long family links in the zone, fishes and kayaks there, and has studied key bird species in the Waiau Uwha, Conway and Hurunui rivers. The views expressed here are his own.