New Plymouth councillors are divided over how much influence iwi and hapū should have under proposed water reforms.
The Government wants to take control of Three Waters services (drinking water, wastewater and stormwater) from councils, and give it to four much larger Water Service Entities (WSE).
Taranaki would be in an entity stretching from Whanganui and Waikato across to the Bay of Plenty.
Mana whenua would appoint six members of a regional representative group to oversee each WSE, and local councils would vote another six members.
The group of 12 would then choose a panel to select a governance board for the entity.
Mana whenua would also issue statements to shape the work of each WSE, as would the regional representative group and the Government.
At this week's New Plymouth District Council meeting to consider the reforms, councillor Dinnie Moeahu supported the change.
"For generations councils have been making decisions that've been detrimental to the environment: fact. For generations tangata whenua have met consistently to advocate for more responsibility to the environment including our waterways: fact."
He said Māori were obliged to be kaitiaki (guardians) of the environment, and that would bring benefits for all people and end ongoing environmental harm.
"Imagine if you have that accountability at a governance level to ensure that it's done right. None of this would've happened, none of it would've happened, and here's the opportunity for our community to stand firm in its place to say no more."
Councillor Amanda Clinton-Gohdes was sceptical that centralisation would bring the savings the Government claims, and other aspects of the reforms.
But she supported Māori making up half of the regional representative group.
"I do support 50-50 governance between councils and mana whenua for the reason that in the past these assets have essentially been 100 per cent controlled and operated by Pākehā and look where it's gotten us: they aren't in good shape.
"The Māori worldview values beyond everything else the environment, people and future generations – and those are exactly the principles we need to be honouring when we're managing such an important asset."
Councillor Richard Handley said he didn't think the community was ready for Māori to have half the seats on the regional representative group.
"While it says ownership is with the councils, in fact the governance is subject to a 50-50 arrangement which I think for our community is a bridge too far. It would be misunderstood and it would be controversial, and I'm just very wary."
Councillor Murray Chong opposed Māori holding half the seats.
"It's the power of co-governance, that's where it's going. [The] He Puapua document is based on indigenous rights … We don't cut it if you look up the meaning of indigenous, we all came here by sea."
Most councillors did not directly address the issue of Māori input at Tuesday's meeting, which was held to consider the NPDC's response to the Government's proposed Three Waters reform.
The majority were concerned that local input would decline and were sceptical of the level of savings the Government is claiming.
The reforms as they stand would see councils' water assets vested with a Water Services Entity, and councils in turn collectively owning the entity covering their area.
New Plymouth mayor Neil Holdom instead wanted a co-operative model to own the water assets, with a non-transferable shareholding for each property connected to the network.
Holdom said those shareholders would elect members to the regional representative group, who with the mana whenua appointees would directly appoint the WES board.
He said that was a simpler and more democratic structure and offered better protection against future privatisation.
"It vests control with the people that we serve, it gives them a voting right to have an influence, it creates a circular accountability that flows through the governance entity, into the independent board, through the organisation and back through to the communities."
A majority of councillors voted in favour of a 13-page response to the Government, which included the cooperative and many other suggested improvements to the Three Waters reform.
The councillors spelled out that NPDC feedback does not indicate support for the reform, and called for a full select committee process.
Māori influence under the Government's reforms is not limited to the regional representative groups.
Water Service Entities would be required to uphold the Treaty of Waitangi, build Māori capacity to participate, and enable mana whenua to express kaitiakitanga.
Each board would need members with expertise in the Treaty of Waitangi, mātauranga Māori, tikanga Māori, and te ao Māori.
Iwi, hapū and Māori would get financial and non-financial support to "participate fully and meaningfully" in the system.