Looking after water in towns and cities

Ngā Wai Manga - The Urban Water Principles can help decision-making and promote the creation of water sensitive urban spaces. The principles were developed by the Urban Water Working Group in their phase I report. The Group’s phase II report gives policy and practice recommendations for implementing Ngā Wai Manga. 

Link to the Group's reports

About the Urban Water Working Group and its vision

The Urban Water Working Group is a collaborative body comprising around 45 practitioners and technical experts working in the field of urban water management. It was convened by the Ministry in late 2017 and while the Ministry served as the secretariat for the Group, the Group's findings and recommendations do not represent the official position of the Ministry for the Environment or Government policy.

In its first phase, the group developed 10 high-level urban water principles and values. The principles, or Ngā Wai Manga, reflect the Group's vision for improved urban water stewardship. They are intended to prompt action and promote alignment within government and industry.

These principles inform:

  • urban water policy, planning and consenting decisions
  • urban development and infrastructure design choices
  • other activities that impact urban water outcomes.

In its second phase the Group developed policies and practices that could implement Ngā Wai Manga. These policies and practices are aimed at central government, local government and the water sector. 

Urban Water Principles – Ngā Wai Manga

Our greatest obligation is to that which gives us life – Te Mana me Te Mauri o Te Wai.

In Aotearoa’s cities and towns people have important relationships with water. Water provides for the basic needs of our community and supports the natural and built environments that many New Zealanders call home. However, as our urban areas grow and change we also need to be mindful of our impact on this taonga. There are legacy problems related to how urban infrastructure networks and built environments have been developed to date and we need to meet these challenges. We need a transformational change in the way that we interact with urban water.

By following this set of principles, we hold in the highest regard the life-giving properties of water – Te Mana o Te Wai of urban water ecosystems. Te Mana o Te Wai is a concept within the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, which is described as ‘the integrated and holistic well-being of the water.’ Upholding Te Mana o Te Wai acknowledges, protects and enhances the mauri of the water. This requires that we must also provide for Te Hauora o Te Taiao (the health of the environment), Te Hauora o Te Wai (the health of the water body) and Te Hauora o Te Tangata (the health of the people).

In an urban context, it is important that communities establish a common understanding of what it means to achieve Te Mana o Te Wai in their specific area and that all other planning and resource-use decisions uphold this strategic vision. The following principles can help guide this decision-making at all levels and promote the creation of water sensitive urban spaces by drawing on mātauranga, the lessons of the past and international best practice, the needs of our present communities and a vision of a sustainable, resilient future.

Papatūānuku – Our relationship with the land – papatūānuku – will pre-determine our relationship with water

1.  Protect and enhance ecosystem health of all receiving environments. Use integrated planning to ensure that decisions made upstream protect downstream receiving environments, such as streams, lakes, wetlands and terrestrial ecosystems, groundwater, estuaries, and the  ocean.

2.  Co-design with nature an integrated and regenerative approach to urban development. Use nature-based or green infrastructure engineering solutions where possible to mimic or work with processes found in the natural environment. Retain, restore and enhance existing elements of the natural drainage system, and integrate these elements into the urban landscape.

3.  Address pressures on waterbodies close to source. Urban water ecosystems are under increased pressure from a wide range of pollutants, modified flow characteristics and altered channel form. These pressures can be either acute (such as a spill or pollution incident) or chronic, created by the cumulative effects of these pressures over time. Mitigating these pressures at or close to their source prevents degradation downstream.

Ngā wai tuku kiri – Our waters are a gift of life provided to us by our tupuna

4.  Recognise and respect mana motuhake – the whakapapa and relationship that mana whenua have with water ecosystems in their rohe. Mana motuhake means the authority (mana) gained through self-determination and control over one's own destiny. Mana whenua communities have this authority in their customary ‘rohe’ or territory and have special cultural relationships with ecosystems in these areas. It is important to proactively engage mana whenua in designing urban environments within their rohe so that they can have a meaningful role in shaping the outcome. 

Tāngata – Our environments are places of human occupation

5.  Identify and consider the community values for urban water and reflect them in decision-making. Communities often have strong aspirations and values for their urban spaces, including values for environmental sustainability, sense of place, and general amenity and liveability. Urban planning and design processes should create opportunities for communities to express their values and for decision-makers to reflect these goals in their decisions. 

6.  Optimise environmental, social and cultural benefits when investing in buildings and infrastructure. When considering options for investment, prioritise options that provide multiple benefits. Investment decisions should take lifecycle costs of buildings and infrastructure into account and generate an enduring well-being gain.

Te hāpori me te wai – The community’s love and care for water is enduring

7.  Uphold and foster kaitiakitanga and custodianship of urban water ecosystems. Everyone has a responsibility to care for the health of our urban water bodies. Because of this, it is important that all community members can connect with these water bodies and are encouraged and empowered to take direct action to maintain and restore ecosystem health.   

8.  Collect and share information to promote common understanding of urban water issues, solutions and values. Meaningful and transparent data and information is necessary to improve both the design and use of our urban environments. Improving access to quality information can support integrated catchment planning and water sensitive design, while information for urban residents and businesses on current and emerging issues and solutions can foster positive behaviour change and the acceptance of new policy and technology.

Tiakina mō apōpō – In building future resilience, our connectedness with the environment is our strength

9.  Increase resilience to natural hazards and climate change. To improve the resilience of urban communities, we need to design water sensitive systems and landscapes which reflect the environmental characteristics of the area and are resilient to natural disasters and change.

10.  Conserve and reuse water resources. Drinking water, wastewater and stormwater are each valuable resources and we should reduce their consumption and/or production and maximise their reuse. This includes increasing water-use efficiency by reducing potable water demand and maximising the use of greywater and stormwater.

Implementing Ngā Wai Manga

The Urban Water Principles - Ngā Wai Manga set out an ambitious vision for urban water in Aotearoa by aiming to protect and enhance Te Mana o te Wai. To encourage the implementation of Ngā Wai Manga the Group has developed and recommended a suite of policies and practices for Central Government, local government and the water sector to adopt. 

The Group’s policy recommendations are aimed at central government. They are:

  • Review primary and secondary legislation to identify changes to be made to protect and enhance Te Mana me te Mauri o te Wai in urban areas.
  • Review and amend National Planning Standards to include provisions that require the implementation of Ngā Wai Manga and related practices (such as WSUD)
  • Create a hub to share best practice, and develop guidance on best practices for urban water management
  • Incorporate Ngā Wai Manga and related practices into guidelines for infrastructure providers and Crown agencies
  • Develop a funding and incentives toolbox to promote best practices for urban water management
  • Develop the educational pipeline and work with industry bodies to establish a national training and certification scheme for urban water practitioners and related professions promote widespread education of, and community participation in urban water solutions.

The Group’s practice recommendations are aimed at central and local government, and the water sector and reflect current and emerging best practice in New Zealand and around the world. 

Find out more

The Urban Water Working Group has produced a report documenting some of its work for phase one. As part of a second phase the Group is continuing to identify specific good practices which councils, service providers, industry and others can consider when managing effects on urban water bodies. Read the report

See the following videos for examples of how some of the urban water principles have been implemented.

Hamilton’s urban wetland

Developer Ian Patton created a wetland in his Glaisdale development in Hamilton to prevent flooding and support good urban water quality. Here he and Hamilton City Council stormwater expert Andrea Phillips talk about the benefits of wetlands in urban developments.



Designing for water quality at Hobsonville Point

A development at Hobsonville Point is designed to minimise the impact of urban living on the environment. It features some great examples of how green infrastructure can support good urban water quality.