The sleeping giant. That's the description of a significant problem facing the future of the Kāpiti Coast.
It was made back in 1997 by the then council infrastructure manager, Ian McIntosh, when addressing the local chamber of commerce as part of the council's first 20-year long-term plan. He was referring to the district's stormwater problems and the cost of maintaining it in the face of increasing growth.
McIntosh was aware the historical "development" of the coast was wrought out of what settlers then considered unproductive swampland. The extensive natural wetlands and its biodiversity that were the food basket of local iwi, was drained to establish farms, houses and roads.
That tension between development and the constriction of the natural environment continues today. On the 12th of this month, councillors accepted a staff report called Stormwater Management Framework (SMF). It outlined a vision of values and outcomes to be used to engage with our communities for feedback.
While the same meeting saw an enthusiastic engagement on two other housing-related reports, this paper on stormwater slipped through with little fanfare. Stormwater has never been a politically sexy topic compared with, say housing, especially given the housing crisis we have today.
But the report on stormwater underpins the huge challenges we face on the coast. The prophet McIntosh was not only right about the sleeping giant, but may have understated the problem. The giant is awakening as noted by the report: "Increased urbanisation of our district and the impacts of climate change are putting pressure on our stormwater network and the waterways that we rely on to take the rainfall to the sea."
New government legislation is forcing councils to reframe the traditional approach. And the cornerstone of this National Policy Statement on Freshwater 2020 are a set of values called Te Mana o te Wai.
While previous RMA directions talk of giving "consideration", under the new direction councils must "give effect" to Te Mana o te Wai. This reframing draws on a holistic Māori perspective that recognises a whole-of-system approach. Meaning we need to acknowledge the interconnectedness and interrelationship of all living and non-living things. Understanding whole systems and not just one component.
The three principles of Te Mana o te Wai are protect, enable and regenerate. The first recognises that "water has a right" to thrive without being degraded or overused by human activity. That access to water is a privilege that comes with responsibility. It's useful to note that the concept of a river having a life of its own was legally established back in 2017 when, as part of the Treaty settlement, the Waikato River was given its own status as a legal person with a co-governance body. A radical concept.
The second recognises that once we commit to this "right" of water, humans must live within the limits set by the natural environment in a sustainable way. The third is a commitment to undo the historical damage caused by our ignorant mismanagement by investing in regeneration and restoration.
Another reason the SMF is so significant is the way it has been crafted to give effect to our Treaty partnership. For the first time council has employed a Tiriti House model in the form of a steering group to progress the vision and outcomes of this approach to reframe the inadequate traditional management system. It consists of KCDC staff, each of the three local iwi, GW and specialist experts.
The importance of this group in reframing the old approach can be gauged from the use of this framework as an umbrella to holistically link not only all the specific components of legislated stormwater management tools, but planning and strategic work streams like the growth strategy, open space strategy, the climate change and resilience work ... etc.
The use of the SMF as an umbrella to link across a spectrum of council activities and the use of a co-governance model to drive this reframing is a positive departure from the haphazard one-eyed Cyclops approach.
There has been some political scaremongering by some political quarters on the issue of co-governance. It may be useful to quote former Treaty Negotiations Minister under the National government, Chris Findlayson.
Talking to RNZ on May 11, he noted that the concept is nothing new: While he says there's room for robust debate about the co-governance model between the Crown and iwi and hapu, Findlayson's advice for dealing with the "sour right" behind the racist, resentful, rhetoric: "We've just got to leave those losers behind and move on. They don't like tangata whenua. They dream of a world that never was and never could be," he says.
While his overall thrust can be seen as too robust, the key statement I take away is that there is room for robust debate about the model. Council will be engaging the community on the draft even as the giant awakes.