Wai (Water) is the essence of all life and the world’s most precious resource. It’s of high importance to Māori, as it is the life giver of all things, a precious taonga (treasure), part of our whakapapa (genealogy), part of our identity. Water is at the heart of our identity and many of us have a deep connection to the water, from our favourite beaches that we flock to in the summer, to the estuaries and rivers we pass on our everyday commute.
Unfortunately, water is under increasing pressure due to the strain we’ve put on the world, including rapid urbanisation, kai (food) production challenges, aging infrastructure and climate change. It is essential that our water resources are well managed to deal with this strain.
For ease of management, water is often split, reclassified and categorised into multiple forms; such as ‘three-waters’; drinking water, stormwater, wastewater – forms of water associated with service and delivery infrastructure; and freshwater and marine water – forms of water associated with the natural environment. This allows issues regarding water infrastructure to be managed effectively in their segregated forms. However, this approach seldom considers the health of the whole water system, and the mechanics of the water cycle, and instead manages these waters in isolation of each other.
Through urbanisation, we have managed to disrupt the flow of water, in particular ngā roimata o ngā Atua (rainfall), the tears of Ranginui (sky father) for Papatūānuku (earth mother). Altering our urban environments by laying concrete pavement, asphalting roads and constructing roofs means we have made the land impervious to water and prone to the accumulation of pollutants from contaminant generating activities. We have purposefully piped and culverted our waterways – the arteries of Papatūānuku, and disrupted the journey not only mai te rangi ki te whenua (from the sky to the land), but mai uta, ki tai (from the ridgeline, to the sea).
As a result, our waters are degraded, ecosystems are damaged, and human health is put at risk.
Our current approach is to manage water in isolation and it is not working. What if we choose to change this approach?
We need to respect water, to allow nature to create the environment where waterways and their associated ecosystems can be strong and healthy. This doesn’t have to mean compromising on development to meet the needs of our growing communities, but it does mean developing in a way that recognises the need to ensure our interaction with Papatūānuku comes from a place of mutual respect.
The good news is that this is happening. One example is Auckland Council’s Water Strategy which has proposed a shift in the water management paradigm to remove people from the centre and reinstate water as the central focus. The strategy’s purpose is to enable Te mauri o te wai (the life supporting capacity of water) and prioritise ecosystems that are healthy, protected and enhanced.
Another example is the green water workforce training being piloted by Auckland Council’s Healthy Waters and WSP. The pilot training programme seeks to boost industry knowledge around green infrastructure.
Green infrastructure is a fast-growing approach used to reduce stormwater pollution and revitalise communities. This is a practice that protects, restores or mimics the natural water cycle by using trees and vegetation to capture and filter rain so it can then be managed in a way that is of benefit to the environment.
By incorporating indigenous understanding alongside modern knowledge we can create a successful, long-term solution to enhancing the life supporting capacity of water as it returns to Papatūānuku.
Ko te wai te ora o ngā mea katoa – Water is the life of all things
Troy Brockbank (Te Rarawa, Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) is a stormwater practitioner, 2018 NZ Young Water Professional of the year, Board member of Water NZ, and Kaitohutohu Matua Taiao (Senior Environmental Consultant) with WSP.
The views expressed are the opinions of subject matter experts and do not necessarily reflect those of WSP.