The quest for a broad consensus on water policy is nearing a conclusion and Alastair Bisley, who leads the process, reckons it is going well.
The Land and Water Forum is a collaborative process whose task is to recommend reform of fresh water management, identifying shared goals and outcomes and options to achieve them.
Its report, "A Fresh Look at Fresh Water", is due to be presented to the Government by the end of next month.
The process is nothing if not inclusive, with 58 organisations taking part. Bisley, who chairs the forum, said that when the idea of a Scandinavian-style collaborative process came up, people thought it it had to better than spending their time in court.
"The more they have done it, I think, the more they have felt comfortable doing it, and the more they have felt they could trust one another and actually make progress," he said.
"The way that trust, and understanding of one another's perspectives, has built up has allowed us to get to common ground that was not available when this process began."
The question was whether they should begin by talking abut principles. Bisley said. "The difficulty with that is that you can have very long semantic debate because people need to have a clear sense of what implications what they are agreeing to might have for them. So instead, what we did was to to talk about experiences.
"We asked everybody to talk about what their overall strategy was for their enterprises, how that impinged on water and what they were doing in relation to water."
That part of the process was indispensable and gave everybody a much more secure feeling when the focus turned to how to move forward, he said.
A key concern is water quality. "Quality is partly a function of flow - how much water there is in the river - and partly a function of what people are putting into it, whether through a pipe or coming off the land," Bisley said.
"We will not be taken seriously unless we can help ensure that water can continue to play its part in our economic growth. First come, first served doesn't serve any longer as a means of allocating water in a growing number of catchments.
"There seems to be an increasingly clear need to consider other approaches - less centralised, more responsive, and with lower transaction costs. Iwi issues around ownership need to be taken into account."
The mantra from farming groups is that "the problem isn't that New Zealand is running out of water, but that water is running out of New Zealand".
They put a lot of store by storage and irrigation schemes.
"New water, whether it comes from storage or from more efficient use can ease over-allocated situations," Bisley said.
"Greater security of supply can promote more efficient use.
"But to get agreement about new storage we need 'win-wins' for the environment as well as for the economy."
The Cabinet paper recommending the forum envisaged a "broad toolkit" which would "include traditional regulatory tools alongside market-based instruments".
But Bisley would not be drawn on the issue of pricing water.
"All of those questions are being discussed. I don't want to go there.
"You will appreciate that as the consensus consolidates and broadens - and it is - until people feel comfortable with the whole they will be uncomfortable about my talking about part of it."
But it is not something that has been excluded.
LAND AND WATER FORUM
Core group comprises:
* Primary industry players - Fonterra, Federated Farmers, Meat and Wool NZ, Forest Owners Association, Dairy NZ, Horticulture NZ and Irrigation NZ.
* Iwi - Ngati Tuwharetoa, Whanganui, Tainui, Ngai Tahu and Te Arawa.
* Environmental and recreational groups - Fish and Game, Forest and Bird, Ecologic, the Environmental Defence Society and Whitewater NZ
* The Tourist Industry Association, Mighty River Power and Water New Zealand.By Brian Fallow Email Brian