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The Legitimacy of IWRM Scale Politics: Lessons from New Zealand

Environmental Policy
Governance
Public Policy
Jeffrey Mcneill
Massey University
Jeffrey Mcneill
Massey University
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Abstract

Successful integrated water resources management (IWRM) is predicated on increased participation and locating decision-making at an appropriate scale of management. These normative assumptions suggest some optimum scale for decision –making and that engagement should result in better outputs. However, geographic scale impacts engagement possibilities defining opportunities for participation and the privileging of some actors within the functional and spatial scope of decision-making. Accordingly, rescaling may merely reconfigure rather than diminish a legitimacy deficit as the constellation of actors and their influence is reordered. The actual impact of rescaling on IWRM legitimacy needs to be assessed and in this regard New Zealand’s experience with IWRM provides useful insights for wider theory and practice; its islands are transected by rivers amenable to discrete catchment management, while its regional level of government is based on river catchments rather than identity. These regional councils have significant enabling regulatory powers for managing their regions’ natural resources, while public consultation is statutorily required in setting planning objectives and regulations. Nevertheless fresh water quality has declined over this period as the nationally important agricultural sector that drives water use and nutrient contamination responds to global markets by increasing production. Public and national government discomfort with both declining fresh water quality and the regional councils’ perceived poor performance, together with the need to address indigenous people’s resource claims to some rivers, have led to a range of innovative but ad-hoc governance experiments that redefine participation constellations at national and regional government levels. These new governance forms raise questions about the wider public acceptance of these decisions and the likelihood of them being realised. Drawing on a policy analytic perspective, this paper outlines the range of these governance arrangements, comments on their input and output legitimacy, and identifies new institutional arrangements that may be applied internationally.