The life force of water

Te Mana o te Wai

Under the new National Policy Statement for Freshwater, the fundamental concept is “Te Mana o te Wai”. This refers to the fundamental importance of water to iwi in particular, and recognises that protecting the health of freshwater protects the health and wellbeing of the wider environment.

It protects the mauri of the Wai. Te Mana o te Wai is about restoring and preserving the balance between the water, the wider environment, and the community.

It is relevant to all freshwater management and not just to the specific aspects of freshwater management referred to in this National Policy Statement.

Water above all

The hierarchy of obligations in Te Mana o te Wai prioritises:

• first, the health and wellbeing of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems

• second, the health needs of people (such as drinking water)

• third, the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing, now and in the future

This is a key change and it reflects the importance and values that iwi place on water above human health, or social, economic and cultural wellbeing. Engagement with iwi in our catchment management is increasingly prioritised. Our consenting requests must already align with local iwi management plans and we have been taking time to improve our understanding of these cultural aspects. This Ngāi Tahu whakataukī (proverb) has been valuable to me in helping me understand the meaning of Te Mana o te Wai: Toitū te Marae o Tāne, Toitū te Marae o Tangaroa, Toitū te Iwi. Translation: When land and water are sustained, the people will prosper.

The political context

The Resource Management Act acknowledges that economic and social impacts should be considered along with environmental outcomes when making resource management decisions.

The most recent National Policy Statement for Freshwater signals that more weighting will be placed on the principles signed in the Treaty of Waitangi and that the health and wellbeing of water bodies and the ecosystem are to be prioritised over all else.

Regional councils will need to define local catchment limits – just as Environment Canterbury is doing through the zone committees and Plan changes. Now that the hierarchy of obligations has elevated the health and wellbeing of water bodies to be the highest priority, it is likely that these Plan limits may become tighter in the future.


As we have been learning more and connecting with rūnanga representatives to discuss environmental stewardship, I am realising how te reo Māori seems to be more eloquent when describing our clients’ values than the English equivalent. These same values resonate with so many of our farming clients who hold their connection to the land dear. It is proving a meaningful and enjoyable experience for us as we learn more about the cultural connections between land, ecosystems and people.

By Charlotte Glass, Director and founder of Agri Magic Ltd

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