Te Mana o te Wai

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What is Te Mana o te Wai?

Te Mana o te Wai refers to the fundamental importance of water and recognises that protecting the health of freshwater protects the health and wellbeing of the wider environment. Te Mana o te Wai is about putting the water first and thinking about it in a holistic way.

Putting the health and wellbeing of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems first is facilitated through the hierarchy of obligations contained in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. This hierarchy prioritises:

  1. the health and wellbeing of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems
  2. the health needs of people (such as drinking water)
  3. the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being, now and in the future.

The Ministries for the Environment and Primary Industries have prepared a factsheet on Te Mana o te Wai. The Regional Council is required to work with our communities and tangata whenua to understand how Te Mana o te Wai applies locally to water bodies and freshwater ecosystems in the region. Working in partnership with tangata whenua, this local understanding is being developed. There will be local variations and nuances across catchments.

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The 5 Rs

Te Mana o te Wai varies from previous freshwater regimes in that it emphasises a different set of interlinked principles. For our local application of Te Mana o te Wai, these principles include what we refer to as 'The 5 Rs’: relationships, reciprocity, respect, responsibility, and restoration. We all need and interact with water, water is life, so these concepts are applicable to everyone.

Te Mana o te Wai emphasises relationships between people and freshwater that are reciprocal and ongoing. We can use the water, but we must do so responsibly and respectfully. We cannot take without returning. For example, a depleted resource must be allowed to recover, a contaminated resource must be restored.

An integral part of having a relationship with the wai is reciprocity. Practising reciprocity involves three things: prioritising the water, giving back to the water, and focusing on actions that enhance the mana of the water, not diminish it. The existing model encourages us to the ask the question, 'what can I use?', but Te Mana o te Wai requires us to ask, ‘how can I use the water better, or how can I restore it to a more abundant state, than when I took from it?'.

Respect is not just a quality, but a practice, that involves using water in a way that sustains its life-giving capacity. Actions that are respectful are mana-enhancing and will support the mauri or lifeforce of the water. Respect is also central to kaitiakitanga, the responsibility to safeguard the environment for future generations. Iwi and hapū have responsibilities as kaitiaki, but other New Zealanders also have a contribution to make under a kaitiakitanga model. Put simply, we can all undertake kaitiakitanga practices.

In the relationship between people and water, the responsibility is on us to manage ourselves and our activities, not to manage the water. All New Zealanders carry these responsibilities, which are to care, to nurture, to regulate ourselves, and to ensure the wai can be sustained and that it is resilient to change. This responsibility is a legacy, handed down to us from previous generations. Te Mana o te Wai gives us an opportunity, and challenges us, to pass on something better to our children and grandchildren.

Where Te Mana o te Wai, in the sense of the health and wellbeing of the water, has been diminished, it can and must be restored through action.

An essential element of bringing Te Mana o te Wai into being is practicing these values through actions that enhance the mana of the water, putting the water first, and restoring the water. Water is the life blood of our land and our people. All New Zealanders must take responsibility for it.

If you have any thoughts or questions about Te Mana o te Wai, fill in our quick feedback form to let us know.