CIF Project- Canterbury Water Management Strategy

Grant No: 08/0

Last updated: 14 October 2009

Contact details

Name of Applicant Group: Environment Canterbury
Contact person: Rick Jones
Address: PO Box 345, Christchurch 8140
Telephone: 03 364 9887

Project details

Status: Finished
CIF funding: $219,375
Total project funding:
Proposed start date: 2009-03
Proposed finish date: 2009-06
Region: Canterbury

Related website links:

Final report

Draft strategy

Project description

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) is an initiative of the Canterbury Mayoral Forum to find a better way of managing the region's water resources. The CWMS document will advise on our intended approach and the delivery models we propose to adopt in moving forward with implementing the strategy.

Development of the strategy has been guided by our Steering Group which brings together central and local government, Ngai Tahu and key stakeholder representatives. Consultation with stakeholders and the general public earlier this year has demonstrated there is a strong support for this initiative. Central government has also endorsed our approach.

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy will not be implemented overnight. The problems are complex and multi-layered. Ongoing leadership will be required at local, regional and national levels, and the different interest groups will need to cooperate over a sustained period of years to improve the way we manage this vital resource in our region.

The draft strategy was released for stakeholder and public consultation in August - the final strategy will be delivered to the people of Canterbury by November 2009.

The issue/opportunity

The region has debated water management often in the past but has not been able to create an integrated approach that has had the support of the majority of the people of Canterbury. This is an issue that too often finds us at loggerheads rather than agreement.

This, coupled with the current highly adversarial approach to water allocation and management, infrastructure provision, and related land management practices in Canterbury is leading to sub-optimal environmental, social, cultural and economic outcomes. The work we have done has demonstrated there is an alternative way forward, based on collaboration and coordination, that will maximise the opportunities for the environment, economy and community of Canterbury in the years ahead.

It is now critical that a long-term strategy is developed to ensure the water resource is managed fairly and sustainably.

The context/background

The Canterbury Water Management Strategy has involved a number of stages, with several now completed.

Stage 1

The first stage of the study, known as the Canterbury Strategic Water Study was published in 2002 and involved an evaluation of the current and likely future water supply and demand throughout the region. Stage 1 was undertaken by Lincoln Environmental and funded by Environment Canterbury, the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Stage 1 concluded that, on an annual basis, there is enough water in Canterbury to meet likely future demand - but some catchments are 'water short' and peak demands could not be met on a weekly basis. It also concluded that water storage should be considered as part of meeting future demands for water - primarily for irrigation - to supplement supply in times of low natural flows.

Stage 2

The second stage of the programme under the Canterbury Mayoral Forum began in 2004 and identified potential water storages in Canterbury and their hydrological feasibility, including the areas they could irrigate and their impacts on river flows.

Stage 3

The third stage of the study, also undertaken for the Canterbury Mayoral Forum, began in early 2006. It involved a preliminary evaluation by multi-stakeholder groups of the environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts of the water storage options identified in Stage 2.

Stage 3 identified two over-arching critical issues - land use intensification and its effects on water quality; and maintaining or improving, flow variability in rivers and streams. It concluded that both issues needed to be explored and subjected to comprehensive public debate before Canterbury was in a position to make sustainable, long-term decisions about water storage or water management more broadly

Stage 4

The fourth stage, now described as the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, includes the development of fundamental principles and a programme of public consultation and feedback to be undertaken during early 2009. It has benefited from the work of the three previous studies. The objective is to create a water management strategy for Canterbury. Stage 4 is being led by the Steering Group which reports to the Canterbury Mayoral Forum


The CWMS document will propose a combination of interventions that will be required to achieve the targets of the strategy:

reviewing and setting environmental standards and limits in relation to river flows, groundwater recharge, ecosystem and habitat protection, natural and cultural character, water quality, and land use programmes to restore and repair ecosystems and habitats so biodiversity can begin to recover

increased efficiency in the distribution and use of existing water resources investment in improved water storage and distribution infrastructure better control over river flows and recharging of groundwater to improve water quality and to reduce pressure on foothill rivers and small streams improved land use practices.

With this in mind, four alternative strategic options (A, B, C and D) were proposed for discussion with stakeholders in March and April of this year and, following stakeholder feedback, were refined for consultation in May and June.

In brief, the main aspects of these four options are:

Option A - Business-as-Usual (the base case)

This option would make use of the current Local Government Act and Resource Management Act methods, processes and approaches. Based on preventing adverse effects it is envisaged that there would be:

  a tightening of some requirements for the future, particularly for protection of the environment

  no integration of development proposals – ad-hoc development would take place as and when developers were ready

  a mixture of statutory, industry and community initiatives all of which would seek to protect the environment and manage infrastructure.

Option B - Advance environmental protection then infrastructure development

This option would address degraded environments, waterways under pressure from abstraction and decline in threatened species, before consideration was given to future major infrastructure development.

In the short-term the focus would be on:

  setting environmental limits

  initiating restoration, recovery and repair of environmental values

  improving efficiency of water use for existing consents

In this option infrastructure development would only happen once agreed environmental values were secure and compliance with environmental limits could be demonstrated.

Option C - Reconfigure consents and infrastructure to provide further water for irrigation and to improve reliability of supply while looking to protect and enhance the environment.

Unlike strategies A, B and D this strategy would take the opportunity to reconsider existing consents and operation of infrastructure, and redistribute water across the region for both surface and groundwater.

Environmental flows, water quality standards, catchment limits for nutrients and sediment, and demand management would all be advanced as part of the reconfiguration of consents and infrastructure.

Option D – Advance infrastructure development alongside environmental repair and protection

This option would create an infrastructure platform involving storage of water of sufficient scope to meet the water needs to achieve production, agriculture, recreation and environmental values. It would aim to design the best “plumbing” arrangement for parts of the region by increasing the supply of usable water to alleviate short-term supply concerns while addressing drinking water, biodiversity, recreational and ecological concerns as part of any development proposals. In this option:

  there would be a new set of requirements for any new infrastructure development relating to environmental limits, efficiency, recreational enhancement, biodiversity initiatives and land-use management

  there would be a more reliable water supply created through storage with earlier economic growth compared to other options, leading to more capacity to fund and provide water.

Unlike Option A (improvement of the present system) the three alternative strategic options (B, C and D) would involve a significant degree of active coordination by local government in collaboration with stakeholders.

"Coordination" in this context means planning more active and adaptive management of water supply and demand to reduce unmanageable risks and uncertainties for all participants. Private sector initiatives will be encouraged within more certain and clearly defined boundaries.

A key point to emerge from stakeholder and public consultation is the strong consensus in favour of a coordinated, collaborative approach that would combine the best features of all the options.

Following a full analysis of all comments from submitters by the Steering group targets will be further refined before inclusion into the Draft Strategy document.

Work is therefore continuing on a revised strategic approach that will involve:

  explicit recognition of environmental limits

  restoration programmes to improve ecological health and functioning to sustainable levels

  development of infrastructure, technologies and practices to progressively deliver improving environmental, social, economic, recreational and cultural outcomes for Canterbury

  evolution of governance structures to enable local government to better meet the challenges identified.

The first two points (environmental limits and ecological restoration) are a precondition for making progress on the third (sustainable development of water resources). The fourth (governance) will provide for a more collaborative and effectively co-ordinated approach.

The strategy needs to be holistic in its approach rather than sequential, because:

  additional, reliable water will be needed to incentivise more efficient irrigation and land management practices, and to improve river flows and groundwater recharge

  additional water will not be released for irrigation purposes to areas that are significantly "at risk" environmentally

  all parties have an interest in minimising the environmental impacts and costs of infrastructure development

  the degree of success in implementing efficiency and reconfiguration measures will determine where, when and how much new infrastructure will be needed

  infrastructure planning has long lead times.

Given these factors - and the inter-dependencies between them - it is vital that the planning of water infrastructure proceeds in tandem with measures to improve water use efficiency, water quality and biodiversity.

The objective therefore, has been to develop a long term strategy to ensure the water resource is managed fairly and sustainably. A draft strategy is due for release August 31st 09 with the final scheduled for publication by November 09.


Last Updated: 13 January 2011

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