What is Te Mana o te Wai and how does it impact farmers?

Te Mana o te Wai underpins the National Policy for Freshwater Management announced in August and this concept which puts the highest value on the health of freshwater ecosystems throughout New Zealand will have a significant impact on farmers.

Te Mana o te Wai refers to the mana of water and emphasises the need for waterways to be kept healthy for their own sake. The policy states that by protecting and prioritising the health of water, the wellbeing of the wider environment is protected.

A specific hierarchy is established in the policy where the health and wellbeing of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems are placed first, followed by the health needs of people (i.e. – drinking water) and third, the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic and culture wellbeing now and in the future. In this system, water is prioritised over all the other pillars of development.

Waimakariri Irrigation Limited (WIL) environmental manager Paul Reese says prioritising water is a paradigm shift from the previous four pillars of environmental, cultural, economic, and social being considered in parallel. It represents a massive shift in how water is managed, and this flows through to the positive action farmers will need to demonstrate on-farm.

“It’s a huge change with water being put first above everything else. In terms of what we need to do on farm, we will have to prove that we are making positive improvements to our waterways and these cannot be offset or delayed. Every action taken by farmers will have to put water first.”

“It will add cost and time to our scheme, FEPs and audit processes. Whether we like it or not this is the reality we are dealing with and we must make sure that everything we do aligns with the new policy. Some of the actions identifying in the FEPs which could previously be worked on over time will have to be prioritised.”

However, Paul says it is important to note that the new policy also provides an opportunity to create an expanded and interconnected view of the entire network and district which builds upon the work already completed by WIL biodiversity lead Dan Cameron.

“We can also view this as an opportunity to lift up the helicopter and create a vision for our district where we work together with other groups to drive the improvement of all of the waterways which run through our catchment.

“It’s an opportunity for WIL to engage with the broader community and create a positive narrative through our engagement and actions.”

Paul says there will be plenty of support available to WIL shareholders and that the current focus is on upgrading FEP templates to ensure that these capture the essence of Te Mana o te Wai.

“We have some workshops coming up which will provide an opportunity to learn more from a cultural aspect and we’ll also be working with farmers to see how this new policy impacts them on an individual farm level and also as a collective.”