Our observations on Waikato River Authority's freshwater restoration operations

25 September 2019

Bob Penter
Chief Executive
Waikato River Authority
PO Box 9338
HAMILTON 3240

Dear Bob

OUR OBSERVATIONS ON WAIKATO RIVER AUTHORITY’S FRESHWATER RESTORATION OPERATIONS

As part of our work on water management, we carried out a performance audit examining how effectively the Ministry for the Environment (the Ministry) has managed Crown freshwater clean-up funds. We also looked at the operational approach of the Waikato River Authority (the Authority) to restoring and protecting the Waikato and Waipā Rivers for additional insight into how different entities manage Crown funds.1

After consultation with the Authority, we prepared a management letter outlining our observations on the Authority’s approach to freshwater clean-up and the associated challenges. Our more detailed observations on the Authority’s operational approach are attached as an appendix.

The Authority’s approach to restoring and protecting the Waikato and Waipā Rivers

The Authority’s Vision and Strategy for the Waikato River (the Vision and Strategy) enables it to take a holistic view of the Waikato and Waipā Rivers and provide a helpful roadmap for making funding decisions. The Authority considers its approach to be consistent with the purpose of its enabling legislation2 after the Treaty settlements between Waikato and Waipā River iwi and the Crown. This provides a solid foundation to promote long-term freshwater quality.

We consider that the Authority’s Waikato and Waipā Restoration Strategy, published in 2018, builds on the Vision and Strategy and, with the annual contestable funding approach, helps to promote integrated and co-ordinated project selection.

There are other aspects of the Authority’s approach that we believe other freshwater clean-up funders would find value in learning about. We encourage the Authority to share these practices and its broader experiences when approached by other funders. These include managing applications online, the Authority’s 2016 Report Card, which incorporates mātauranga Māori cultural values and science, and the Authority’s range of engagement and communication initiatives.

The Authority’s establishment of a long-term river restoration investment fund shows a prudent and forward-thinking approach to stewardship and demonstrates how good strategic planning can support greater effectiveness and long-term sustainability. The fund provides some assurance that the long-term strategy for the Waikato and Waipā Rivers will enable the region’s freshwater restoration activity to continue beyond the current 30-year term when Crown funding ceases. This will benefit current and future generations.

The Authority’s challenges

Freshwater restoration is challenging. The Authority, the Ministry, and other organisations face similar challenges in evaluating the effectiveness of restoration projects and realising their long-term outcomes beyond the funding periods.

We note that the Authority’s arrangements for evaluating project effectiveness continue to improve and we encourage it to continue. We were told that the Authority carries out project visits before payment of the final project funding and that all projects that receive more than $1 million of funding are independently audited after completion. As of writing this letter, we understand that an audit of the Trust’s first $1 million project, which was completed in June 2018, will be carried out in 2018/19 and that the Authority has already met with the accountants.

Another challenge is keeping up to date with best practice in freshwater management, which is evolving. The Authority and other organisations need to remain aware of current developments in freshwater management best practice and upskill accordingly.. There is also the challenge for all organisations involved in freshwater management nationally to work together in a more co-ordinated, proactive, and consistent way.

We acknowledge that the Authority understands these challenges, including the importance of long-term outcomes and the need to shift the focus of monitoring and reporting from short-term outputs to effectively evaluate long-term project effectiveness. We encourage the Authority to continue working towards this to reduce risks to the long-term effectiveness of the funding it provides.

Thanks to the Authority’s staff for their co-operation. I hope that our observations are useful for the Authority’s ongoing work to restore and protect the Waikato and Waipā Rivers.

Yours sincerely

Signature - GS

Greg Schollum
Deputy Controller and Auditor-General


1: Although the Authority receives its funding from the Crown, the source of those funds are from Treaty of Waitangi (Treaty) settlements between the Crown and iwi of the Waikato and Waipā Rivers.

2: Waikato-Tainui Raupatu Claims (Waikato River) Settlement Act 2010, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Raukawa, and Te Arawa River Iwi Waikato River Act 2010, and Ngā Wai o Maniapoto (Waipā River) Act 2012.