< December 2021 newsletter


All Water Services Entities will be required to give effect to Te Mana o Te Wai. Three of its six principles will encompass all aspects of the water delivery system - specifically Mana whakahaere, Kaitiakitanga, and Manaakitanga. These principles are to be defined by tangata whenua.

What is Te Mana o te Wai?

Te Mana o te Wai, (which translates as the mana or power of water), refers to the vital importance of water. It was initially introduced in 2014 but strengthened in 2020 to provide “stronger direction” on how it must be applied. 

Te Mana o te Wai is the all-encompassing concept driving the countrywide management of our freshwater and is integral to all the Government’s water-related policies, regulations, and laws. It covers all regional councils and their planning and implementation, and the future Three Water entities.

Te Mana o te Wai delivers multi-level Māori involvement and directs all persons, functions, powers, and duties relating to our water, whether in the environment or our infrastructure, no matter what additional race-based requirements are legislated for. 


A. The Hierarchy of Obligations

Te Mana o te Wai has the following priorities: 

  • health and well-being of water; 
  • the health needs of people as in drinking water; and
  • the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being. 

B. The Six Principles of Te Mana o te Wai
These principles inform the implementation of Te Mana o te Wai, as they are explained by Government. The first three principles listed below seem sensible and reasonable.

    1. Governance: the responsibility of those with authority for making decisions about freshwater to do so in a way that prioritises the health and well-being of freshwater now and into the future.
    2. Stewardship: the obligation of all New Zealanders to manage freshwater in a way that ensures it sustains present and future generations.
    3. Care and respect: the responsibility of all New Zealanders to care for freshwater in providing for the health of the nation.

      However, the other three give Māori representatives significant, open-ended power with no strict definitions, no boundaries, limits, or any other democratic safeguards:
    4. Mana whakahaere: the power, authority, and obligations of tangata whenua to make decisions that maintain, protect, and sustain the health and well-being of, and their relationship with, freshwater.
    5. Kaitiakitanga: the obligation of tangata whenua to preserve, restore, enhance, and sustainably use freshwater for the benefit of present and future generations.
    6. Manaakitanga: the process by which tangata whenua show respect, generosity, and care for freshwater and for others. 

C. Ever-changing definition
The explanation of Te Mana o te Wai is set out in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPFSM) under section 52 of the Resource Management Act 1991, “or in any future statement issued under that section that amends or replaces the 2020 statement”.
So, we can expect the concept and its application to evolve further.

Illustration showing where Te Mana o te Wai fits into the WSE scheme.

(Taumata Arowai and Three Waters Reform Programme iwi/Māori hui a motu A3 (PDF, 6MB). The document can be found on the DIA website HERE).


Under the NPFSM, Te Mana o te Wai affects how local authorities manage freshwater, and directs other New Zealanders through regional and district plans and policy statements. 

  1. Involvement in Planning & Implementation
    Regional Councils must give effect to the obligations and principles of ‘Te Mana o te Wai’, “to the extent they (local Maori leaders) wish to be involved”, in the development of a long-term vision for and management of freshwater (including the decision-making processes). This involves the application of mana/tangata whenua’s values and knowledge (matauranga Maori), understanding of the waterbodies’ history, and their aspirations for the future.
  2. Transfer of Power to Tangata Whenua
    Local authorities are obliged to involve tangata whenua in decision-making, monitoring, preparation of policy statements and plans. They must also ‘investigate’ divesting their governance authority to ‘tangata whenua’ by joint management and/or a transfer of powers.
  3. Integrated Management
    Local authorities must integrate freshwater management with a mountain-to-the-sea perspective on land use to avoid adverse (cumulative) effects on freshwater environments. Consequently, this has the potential to affect many/all landowners and all resource consent applications.
  4. Reporting on Progress
    Regional authorities must report on progress towards the long-term vision and on decisions around tangata whenua involvement (such as joint management agreements).

There is the danger that other New Zealanders (and possibly even proven, facts-based science) may be ignored while unelected, unaccountable, unchallengeable ‘tangata whenua’, ‘Maori Advisory Group’ or similar are given statutory power over local authorities, obliging them −

  1. To “interpret and give effect to Te Mana o te Wai” (which as previously noted is unrestricted in its interpretation); and “how to enable matauranga Maori, tikanga Maori, and kaitiakitanga to be exercised”.
  2. To  identify matters of importance, how Te Mana o te Wai will be applied locally, and the outcomes required for waterbodies; 
  3. To enable (Maori) to apply different systems of knowledge for freshwater care and be involved in monitoring, and
  4. To implement the National Objectives Framework.


In addition to C. Integrated Management, above, Compliance Officers working for Taumata Arowai – the Water Services Regulator have the power to enter any property without a search warrant if they “believe there’s a serious risk to public health”. Interestingly, the only exception is for maraes and related buildings, which are to be given “cultural consideration”.


The provision of water can be restricted or interrupted (for example, a rahui) if required for “cultural factors” affecting the source. This means that cultural or religious mores could override the proven science or filtration capabilities of a water supply and force it to be stopped. Therefore, it is possible that cultural and religious beliefs (without scientific substantiation) may be imposed on other New Zealanders who don’t share the same beliefs.


All Māori involvement will be funded by water users/ratepayers. As explained under the Three Water’s plan, the Government requires:

  • “…iwi/Maori to be well supported to contribute to the new roles created through the reform process, …………….and exercising kaitiakitanga under the Te Mana o te Wai mechanisms”;
  • “… the entities and their boards will be required to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai, and understand, support and enable matauranga Maori and tikanga Maori and kaitiakitanga to be exercised throughout their organisations, and when engaging with iwi/Maori.”
  • The Ministry for the Environment also takes applications for grants under Te Mana o te Wai Fund and/or Te Patea o Te Mana o Te Wai (Water Authority Fund).


Common law demands that no one “owns” water as it is essential to all life. However, the Iwi Leaders’ Forum has been striving for ‘ownership’ for many years. Seemingly in support of that claim, the current Government, particularly the Minister of Local Government and Maori Development Nanaia Mahuta, has developed ways to indirectly achieve that end.

Good law is that which is well defined and certain, and which does not favour any one ethnicity over all others. Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to the provision and control of water – the essence of life. 


  1. When did New Zealanders vote for a constitutional change away from democratic governance of the country, its people, and resources to co-governance with unelected, unaccountable, and unchallengeable tribal groups? 
  2. Where are the safeguards against conflicts of interest, abuse of power and blatant racism?
  3. How are our rights as New Zealand citizens to be protected against the statutory obligations under Te Mana o te Wai? 
  4. Where are the safeguards against –
    1. religious or cultural beliefs negating proven science, 
    2. abuses of power,
    3. conflicts of interest, or 
    4. inappropriate allocations of taxpayer funds?


Go back to the December 2021 newsletter


New Land and Water Regional Plan for Otago Regional Council

Image source: https://www.orc.govt.nz/media/11399/hierarchy-of-plans.jpg The Otago Regional Council (ORC) is in the process of developing a new Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) - in partnership with Kāi Tahu iwi. Together, they are talking with catchment groups, industry groups and subject experts to help develop the region’s new Plan for freshwater. This plan will include rules and limits on water and land use. Continue reading

Three Waters reform to give iwi/Māori dominating influence

As the Government releases more information about its Three Waters reforms, it is becoming obvious that the proposed system is to be dominated by the rights and interests of iwi/Māori. The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) Three Waters paper ‘Opportunities for Iwi/Māori in the Three Waters Reform’ sets out how this will be achieved.  Continue reading

Three Waters Reform – further constitutional change by stealth

In another step in what the Government terms ‘partnership-based reform’ Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta last week released further information on plans to move the ownership and management of water infrastructure from local councils into the hands of four multi-regional water service entities across New Zealand. This information includes the proposed boundaries of the four water providers, and further details on the proposed water services entities - including governance arrangements, how they would be regulated, and the role of iwi. Nanaia Mahuta stated: “The Government will continue to work with the sector, iwi and industry on some of the details to give these transformational reforms the best chance of success. We will be making further announcements in the coming weeks, including a three waters reform support package for councils and their communities’’. Continue reading

Update on the Three Waters Reform Programme

Early last year many of us made submissions on the Water Services Regulator Bill. Following the public consultation process the Government passed the Taumata Arowai – Water Services Regulator Act in July 2020. The reform programme is now being progressed through a voluntary, partnership-based approach with the local government sector, alongside iwi/Māori as the Crown’s Treaty Partner.  Continue reading

Partnership trumps good governance - the Taupō water monitoring deal

The Waikato Regional Council is planning to outsource the monitoring of the waters in and around Lake Taupo and its tributaries to the Tūwharetoa Maori Trust Board. This is despite the Council having identified the risk that it may be expected to undertake similar agreements with other iwi authorities or local authorities that may result in not being able to deliver on expectations due to competing priorities.   Continue reading

Influential role for Maori at new Water Services Regulator

Taumata Arowai—the Water Services Regulator Bill, open for public submissions until 4th March, seeks to create a new water regulator - to be called Taumata Arowai. The Bill includes provision for a Maori advisory group to work alongside this new Crown entity. The Maori Advisory Group is another manifestation of the government’s commitment to support agencies to form true partnerships with Māori "by actively facilitating new prototype partnerships between the Crown and Māori", as outlined in a cabinet paper released in July 2019, 'Building Closer Partnerships with Māori'. Continue reading

Action Plan for Healthy Waterways

Thank you to everyone who took the opportunity to make a submission on the Government’s 'Action for Healthy Waterways' discussion document. Around seventeen and a half thousand submissions were received, reflecting much interest in the proposals. From a democracy point of view, it is of great concern that several proposals point to the undermining of the democratic control of water, and include the intention to require local authorities to compulsorily include a vague and undefined set of values and interests in the management of the water bodies and freshwater ecosystems in their region. Continue reading

Have your say on looking after our water

The Ministry for the Environment is proposing a raft of legislative and regulatory changes to clean up lakes and rivers within “a generation”.  Continue reading


Last week the Waitangi Tribunal released its report on stage 2* of the National Freshwater and Geothermal Resources inquiry. The report recommends two specific amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 and a number of paths and mechanisms for co-governance and co-management. Continue reading

Iwi seeking governance of the Marine & Coastal Area, and authority over water

On March 26 Maori claimants from around the country gathered to make submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal for the rights to their coastal water areas, saying that since the foreshore and seabed march in 2004, progress has been slow in recognising iwi governance of their marine and coastal areas. Continue reading

Maori Council demands the control of water

The Waitangi Tribunal has recently been hearing the final part of stage of two of its inquiry into a variety of claims relating to New Zealand’s fresh water resources. (A list of the matters the Tribunal is focusing on is available on the Waitangi Tribunal website, see HERE.) Continue reading

Government's Freshwater Policy

The government released its water policy last month, see HERE. It avoids dealing with the question of ownership, instead focusing first on cleaning up rivers, and then looking into the more difficult issue of water allocation. Continue reading

Our key concerns with the Water Services Entities Bill

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Government to force Three Waters scheme despite overwhelming opposition

The controversial Three Waters legislation is one step closer - the Water Services Entities Bill was introduced to the House last week. Local Government Minister Nanaia Mahuta said it was the first of several pieces of legislation concerning the proposed water entities. Continue reading

Taxpayers’ Union takes to the streets to fight Three Waters

Christchurch was the first of 39 stops in a nationwide roadshow run by the Taxpayers’ Union to oppose the Government’s Three Waters reform. Executive director Jordan Williams said the tour was being held to hear and highlight the concerns of ratepayers and local councils opposed to the “undemocratic three waters asset grab.” Continue reading

Three Waters - Government removes vital information from public view

The Water Users’ Group legal challenge to the Government’s Three Waters Reform proposal has met an unexpected snag: “Something strange happened in December after we filed our High Court application for judicial review. Crown Law asked us to redact information that was previously in the public arena,” Stephen Franks writes in a recent communication to supporters of the Water Users’ Group. Continue reading

Three Waters update - Mayors still not convinced

It appears the Recommendations Report by the working group set up by the Government to address major national concerns around Three Waters has done nothing to quell the fears of many councils. Whangārei Mayor Sheryl Mai said the working group's recommendations to Government around dealing with the three sticking points of representation, governance and accountability simply made her council more determined in its High Court Three Waters challenge. “Our concerns remain regarding democratic accountability, and ownership rights and responsibilities…….” Continue reading

Three Waters Legal Challenge Underway

You may not have heard of the Water Users’ Group. This is a group of concerned citizens who are taking legal action against the Labour Government’s plan "giving some Māori the effective control of more than a hundred billion dollars of ratepayer funded three waters assets". A link to the Group's website is here: www.waterusers.org.nz Continue reading

Major survey: Kiwis demand consultation on Three Waters

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Incensed at the Government forcing through a plan for four mega entities to take over the country’s three waters infrastructure and service delivery - despite widespread opposition from 60 of the country’s 67 councils, and the promise from the government that their proposal was optional – three councils have banded together to file an application in the court against Minister of Local Government Nanaia Mahuta and Secretary for Internal Affairs Paul James. Continue reading

Outrage at power grab - “a dark day for democracy”

"A deceitful, lying pack of bastards," exclaimed Masterton councillor Tina Nixon on hearing that the government will force councils to hand control of their water assets to four mega water entities, despite the previous promise to Councils that they could choose to opt in or out of the proposed reform programme.  Continue reading


There is strong level of opposition across the country to the Government’s proposed Three Waters service delivery programme. Comments from councillors show very serious concerns. In some quarters there appears to be a suspicion that the Government is not being completely open about everything it is seeking to achieve.   Continue reading

Government plans to seize ratepayers’ assets - without compensation

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Next Steps for Three Waters Reform

This is a complex set of reforms the Government intends to implement in stages over the next three years.  The first stage was the Water Services Regulator Act - which created the water services regulator ‘Taumata Arowai’. This body will oversee and enforce a new drinking water regulatory framework, and have oversight of the management of our wastewater and stormwater networks. This is designed to ensure that minimum water standards are met no matter who the supplier. This new Crown entity is currently being established, and will become responsible for drinking water regulation when the second stage, the Water Services Bill, is passed, which is expected to be mid-2021. Continue reading