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January 29th, 2009
NZ Report Highlights Complexities of Water Governance

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PR – The report called “Innovative Governance and Regulatory Design: Managing Water Resources” was commissioned by Landcare Research as part of a FRST-funded project looking into issues of water management in Canterbury.

The report found that neither of the principal options through which water can be allocated under the Resource Management Act (RMA) – regional plans and consents – are capable of effectively constraining water takes or of ensuring allocation to its highest-value use.
The report’s author, Professor Neil Gunningham from the Australian National University, Canberra, suggests that neither hierarchy (command and control regulation), nor markets (water trading and incentives) offer anything like complete solutions.
He says serious attention must be given to a third approach called collaborative environmental governance which involves a diversity of private, public and non-government stakeholders acting together towards commonly agreed goals, and aiming to achieve far more collectively than individually. Prof Gunningham also argues that in designing policy instruments we need “smart regulation” – an approach which seeks to use a range of tools in complementary combinations to harness a broader range of stakeholders as surrogate regulators.
Landcare Research principal scientist Bob Frame says collaborative governance can be highly effective.
“However solutions will vary widely from case to case. They are highly dependent on an appropriate mix of viewpoints and a willingness to participate.
“What we’re seeing in Canterbury today is the intense complexity of these water allocation issues and the involvement of a large number of interested parties. Sadly, we’re at a point where simple trade-off between different options is unrealistic and there may be no ideal solution. Our report doesn’t offer alternatives in the traditional sense. What we have to look for is hybrid ways that will require collaboration between interested parties across a representative range of viewpoints through a process of rigorous debate,” he says.

“We can definitely get there. But it will involve people with widely differing views sitting down together and starting to work out what compromises are acceptable, ‘what do we give and what do we take?’ Because, quite simply, the issues are so complex that there aren’t always win-wins.”

The report is available on:

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