To have no water meters or pay for my water, to have a shower for as long as I want, is just bizarre.
I come from Queensland, and I’ve been in the water planning game for more than 20 years, even before water planning was a profession.
Obviously, in Australia, water quantity is the main problem – you either have too much or not enough. The first water plan I worked on was for the biggest irrigation valley in Australia, the Murrumbidgee. It was back in 1997 when we were just starting to talk about water plans and things like environmental flows, giving some water to the river and not just using it for humans or irrigation. It took a lot of time to get people’s mind around sharing water with the environment, and the biggest challenge was convincing our own government departments.
Since then I have been fortunate in working on plans throughout Australia, including most recently developing the water management plan for the Great Artesian Basin, which covers 70 per cent of Queensland – three times the size of New Zealand. Career wise, I was looking for a change, new challenges. New Zealand is very well advanced in co-governance with iwi. I thought it was something I would like to learn. I was also interested in getting into the water quality side of things.
It’s my job to make sure that the Healthy River/Wai Ora plan change is delivered in the time frames we promised the community. It’s quite exciting as you are constantly solving problems, dealing with uncertainty, trying to keep everyone on side (or at least not getting them off side), making sure that the project gets completed and does not fall over because of something that hasn’t been done or taken into account.
We’re doing the right thing. We are addressing water quality. We have identified it as a problem. We are not going to fix it tomorrow, we have put in an 80 year target to do it all. That’s forward thinking!
It’s not a major disaster at the moment. Cattle aren’t dying and you can still swim in the river, but let’s deal with it now before it becomes a big problem. That is hard to sell to people because it’s not in your face.
I consider myself a juggler. Of community expectations, government commitments, economic benefits to individuals and companies, environmental matters, amenity – does it look nice, does it stink, are the fish still alive, is there enough water to drink? But we can’t forget history. People forget that most farmers have developed their farms following government rules of the time that were often pro development, and now we are asking them to change. So it’s a shared responsibility. We have to think about future generations. Then add Māori issues, legislative requirements for co-governance, different organisations and different pressures. There’s always conflict. My job is like avoiding the rocks and navigating the rapids.
Putting Healthy Rivers in place is a staged approach. We hope to finalise the plan by mid-2019, but the time frame is constantly changing. It’s a high risk project and it has a high political profile. Across New Zealand, they are talking about it. Other people are watching us. We need an outcome that is acceptable to all parties. When it all comes together, it will be beautiful. And – this is what gets me – you get change. You make the Waikato a better place!