There is a strong synergy in goals between this principle and another driving force of water reform in New Zealand – despite coming from two completely different places. This principle mirrors the Māori concept of Te Mana o te Wai, which is now enshrined in law with the passage of the Water Services Act 2021. Te Mana o te Wai, as I understand it, means water having authority, respect or dignity that brings it into balance with that of people. Te Mana o te Wai describes a new (to this pakeha engineer) way of looking at things in the industry.
Contrasting the engineer’s perspective, achieved through logic and practical considerations of public health, Te Mana o te Wai begins by assigning a priority of care to the health of freshwater bodies. In fact, this priority exists above even the health and drinking water needs of people. I’m sure many engineers had a knee-jerk reaction to the idea that water bodies are more important than the public we want to protect - I know I did at first. But this can be a win-win scenario, as both perspectives are aligned in outcome. It just takes the industry a bit of reasoning to arrive to the same conclusion that Māori began with as an axiom.
As the industry modernises its culture and engages with the changing culture of New Zealand, we are well-advised to adopt the perspective that water treatment, use and discharge form a cycle, and our task as service providers is to take on its stewardship holistically. Currently, Hauraki District Council is working with Lutra to establish a source water risk management plan. This plan will have actions to secure the water source against current and future risks. These plans became a required part of a drinking water safety plan with the passage of the Water Services Act 2021.
I may have given the impression that the engineer’s perspective on this principle is detached but I know better than that – I work every day with someone who helped author it. The engineer’s perspective, like the Māori one, comes from love. Love for the people. Love for the land. And love for the waters. On the wall of Lutra’s Hamilton office where I work there is a whakataukī (saying). It’s inspired by the motto of the water industry’s professional organisation Water NZ, and I think it resonates with the perspective behind the inclusion of this principle among the other five.