Where it all began: Canterbury Strategic Water Study
The community-led decision-making process is near and dear to Andy’s heart. It was, after all, a process he designed and trialled as part of the Canterbury Strategic Water Study (CSWS) in 2006-07.
The first CSWS study was conducted by Aqualinc to determine what the issue with water supply in Canterbury was. It concluded that there wasn’t a shortage of water in the region, but there was an issue of where that water was and having enough water during the summer period to maintain river flows, supply irrigation schemes and further irrigation developments.
Following that “diagnosis” was the question of water storage- where are the places water could be stored, how viable are they and how would they work?
This led to more than 60 possible sites being identified as water storage options. This number was later culled to less than 20 sites in the second study by Aqualinc.
“The job of the third stage, which I designed and led, was to put together a multi stakeholder group of people to see if you could come to any conclusions about the acceptability of developing any of those storages and what would need to be done in order to ensure that if such a storage was to be developed, there would be some reasonable chance of it being consented and publicly acceptable,” Andy says.
“It was essentially to test whether or not you could have some kind of multi-stakeholder collaborative process.
Regional and water zone committee members on one of their first field trips to the Rakaia River and Lake Coleridge.
“It had never been done on any kind of large scale for water- certainly not in Canterbury and to the best of my knowledge not in New Zealand.”
A major principle behind the process was that those involved had to reach a consensus- it was not going to be a “majority rules” decision making process.
“If you end up in a voting process, it just means you have another layer of politics and you don’t wind up finding a real solution, you just find a solution that the majority has voted for but not everyone says they can live with.
“If that's what happens, then it's only a matter of time that the solution that's been voted on is relitigated or being voted on again with a different outcome.
“It doesn’t get any enduring solution.”
Talking about the most crucial point in a consensus decision making process, Andy is clear and adamant about what that is: “Nobody is there as a representative.”
“They are there in a personal capacity for the knowledge and skills they bring,” he says.
“The underlying rationale is that if you go there as a representative, irrespective of what kind of organisation you're involved in, you are under at least some pressure and often very strong pressure to argue the line that your organisation wants you to argue.
“The notion that you try to come towards a consensus where everybody can ultimately agree is much more difficult if people are there in a representative capacity.”
Once a group was pulled together for the CSWS- Andy put to them a number of questions including “Is this worthwhile?”
“This was at a time when resource consent applications were being battled to death at the High Court or the Environment Court and lawyers and experts were lined up on either side- it was a race to the bottom or a race until water ran out.
“At first, about the only thing people in the group could agree about was that the then current system under the Resource Management Act was not working and was likely to give you poor solutions. People agreed it made sense to try to find something better.”
The group’s first task was to design a methodology for evaluating any proposal for irrigation storage.
Then, joining with members of local communities- starting with North Canterbury- they used the methodology to assess irrigation storage options across the region.
“The high-level conclusion of this process was that people were able to come to a substantial degree of agreement, not absolute unanimity, and that some options were definitely more achievable than others in each region and people could agree about that.”
However, one of the most important conclusions of this third phase of the CSWS was that before any substantial proposal could be developed, much more needed to be known about the impact on water quality that further irrigation development would have. Cue the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS)
Regional and zone committee members visit the upper catchment of the Rangitata River to look at biodiversity and water management issues (2013).
Developed by the Canterbury Mayoral Forum and adopted by Environment Canterbury in 2010, the CWMS laid out 10 sets of targets for water management in Canterbury.
Adopting the same community-led, consensus decision making process Andy had trialled in the Canterbury Strategic Water Study, the CWMS formed 10 water zone committees to develop priorities and come up with solutions to their local water management issues.
On top of this, a Regional Water Management Committee, which would include appointees from each of the zone committees, local councils and Ngai Tahu, plus members appointed to provide knowledge around irrigation, farming, biodiversity, recreation, and fisheries, was created.
The regional committee was tasked with looking at issues and opportunities from a region-wide perspective rather than the local perspective the zone committees were required to do.
Andy was invited by Environment Canterbury, the Mayoral Forum and Ngai Tahu to be the independent chair of the regional committee.
“It's pretty challenging to chair a committee of 27 people who have got dramatically different views, very different levels of knowledge and, at least to begin with, coming from quite different directions about things.
“Because it's consensus-centred decision making, the chair has to conduct the orchestra of the conversation without making any rules and resisting the temptation when someone says 'let's have a vote about this' because it's like no that's not how we do things.”
This led to some “fairly unpleasant moments”, but those moments were key to getting a solution everyone would accept.
Is it worth it?: A turning point in the regional committee
Field trips, such as this one in 2011 to the Mackenzie district, gave regional and zone committee members the chance to discuss issues as well as building trust and personal relationships.
“Every such committee has to spend a certain amount of time violently disagreeing with itself.”
One of those pivotal moments for Andy was when the regional committee was finalising its view on the Hurunui Waiau zone implementation proposal which would later become the Hurunui Waiau Regional Water Plan.
At the time, there was a moratorium on water conservation orders on the Hurunui River and so there was some urgency for both the Hurunui Waiau Water Zone Committee and the Regional Committee to form their views.
However, the respective committees formed slightly different views about the degree of protection on the Upper Hurunui and south branch and Lake Sumner.