Three Hawke's Bay councils have been recognised for their strong leadership and community engagement, named finalists in this year's Local Government New Zealand Excellence Awards.

Now in their fifth year, the awards recognise and celebrate the key leadership role that local government plays in communities around the country.

The development of a sophisticated, three-dimensional groundwater flow model, showing the impact groundwater has on the Heretaunga Plains earned Hawke's Bay Regional Council a finalist spot in the Environmental Impact category.

The judges praised the Heretaunga Plains Aquifer project as "an innovative and challenging model that draws on leading edge science and has provided the basis for informed decision-making around water management".

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Regional council principal scientist Jeff Smith said that while the council used to only be able to assess the effect of individual groundwater water takes, the new technology enabled it to assess the combined effect of the takes and their impact.

"We can make predictions through the computer simulation to anticipate what the effects of management decisions might be so we can have more confidence in those decisions."

Central Hawke's Bay District Council's Project Thrive community engagement initiative saw it pick up a finalist spot in the Governance, Leadership and Strategy category.

Launched in 2016, following the election of new mayor Alex Walker and six new councillors, it involved community discussions to develop a strategic vision and direction for the district.

The judges noted the leadership of the newly elected members and new chief executive and the extensive consultation within a tight timeframe.

"They've 'walked the talk' and the process informed a series of council decisions," the judges said.

Walker said it was great to be recognised.

"I'm really proud of the work the community, councillors and staff did to pull together this vision and that work is now informing everything we are doing."

Wairoa District Council's extensive engagement with the community through its Wairoa Wastewater Stakeholder Group, ahead of the renewal of its community wastewater scheme resource consent due in 2019, made it a finalist in the Community Engagement category.

Judges hailed the project as "an inclusive, solutions-focused and pragmatic response that included strong iwi participation and two-way community engagement".

Wairoa mayor Craig Little said the stakeholder group comprised a wide range of community members who started off with a number of possibilities to consider.

"The biggest consideration was what was the best decision for the environment, but also keeping in mind the practicalities and cost to the community - it was about doing it right."

LGNZ president Dave Cull said being named a finalist was a significant achievement, and that the projects in Hawke's Bay were having a profound impact on communities.

The award winners would be announced at the LGNZ conference dinner in Christchurch on July 16.