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Auditor-General's Report Published - Reflecting On Our Work About Water Management

The Auditor-General’s report Reflecting on our work about water management was presented to the House of Representatives today.

Over the last two years we have been looking at how well public organisations are carrying out their water management responsibilities. We completed seven performance audits on several water-related topics, including irrigation, drinking water, marine environments, stormwater systems, and freshwater. The results of these audits were published in reports that you can read on our website.

Our latest report draws from the findings of our seven water performance audits and our audit work more generally. The report highlights the issues we saw that influence whether water is being managed well and also discusses the main areas we consider that the Government needs to prioritise to improve how water is managed.

In our view, a more strategic and integrated approach is needed to address New Zealand’s water management challenges. It needs to build consensus on the main issues, and develop and implement responses and actions that work together towards a common goal over the long term. A strategic and integrated approach to water management needs to provide a framework that promotes collaboration. The roles and responsibilities of central and local government need to be carefully considered, including the implications of changing the regulatory settings for the public organisations implementing that approach, how it is funded, and any other resources that may be needed. A strategic and integrated approach would support targeting of investment decisions to address where risks are and where the greatest benefits can be achieved.

We need flexible ways for resolving water management issues. Those involved in addressing water management challenges need to make sure they are working together in the way that best enables them to agree on the common goals to work towards over the long-term and how these will be achieved. The main challenge in working together is in striking a balance between competing interests, values, priorities, and mandates, whether when setting strategic priorities, developing policy and regulation, or implementing policy and delivering services. For example, more can be done to involve Māori in water management. In our work, we found that the commitment required to establish relationships and processes, and to build and maintain a shared understanding of what everyone is trying to achieve, is significant and often underestimated. Continued Crown engagement and resourcing is needed for the current and future arrangements that enable Māori involvement in managing water resources to remain effective.

To effectively manage water resources, good information is essential at both a local and national level. Good information supports effective governance, engagement, and accountability. It needs to be based on collecting quality data and understandable both to decision-makers and to those holding them to account. For example, we have reported for some time that public organisations need better information about the condition and performance of assets, including water, wastewater, and stormwater assets. Because of gaps in this information, those responsible for managing the assets that deliver water-related services are often limited in their ability to make well-informed decisions. It also limits the ability to have informed conversations with communities about the risks they are willing to accept, such as the level of flood risk they might be exposed to.

We’ve also produced a short video that summarises our water management work.

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