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Emerging scarcity and emerging commons: Water management groups and groundwater governance in Aotearoa New Zealand

Sarah Boone
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington, New Zealand; sarah.boone@mfe.govt.nz

Stephen Fragaszy
Ministry for the Environment, Wellington, New Zealand; stephen.fragaszy@mfe.govt.nz

ABSTRACT: In New Zealand, intensifying agricultural production, particularly in the Canterbury and Heretaunga Plains, has led to groundwater overabstraction. Aquifer connectivity to lowland streams results in decreased streamflow with concomitant impacts on nutrient concentrations and other relevant factors for indigenous flora and fauna. Recent legislative reforms including the 2017 amendments to the National Policy Statement – Freshwater Management have increased local government responsibility and authority to address cumulative effects of diffuse resource use and have increased pressure on agricultural communities to farm within environmental constraints. Numerous water management groups (WMGs) have emerged across New Zealand in the past decade to deal with these reforms and ensure reliability of irrigation water supply. Regional governments view WMGs as helpful in dealing with water allocation challenges and integrated environmental management approaches. This paper uses two case study WMGs from Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury to illustrate aspects of common property management and explore the viability of this type of localised resource governance. The study highlights how these WMGs have navigated groundwater, local government, and environmental management issues and how their local context and constraints shaped their development. It also illustrates how WMGs can engage with water quality and broader environmental challenges while ensuring members’ economic viability.

KEYWORDS: Water user groups, common property resource institutions, surface water–groundwater interactions, local governance, groundwater quality, New Zealand