NPS-FM Clause 1.3: Fundamental concept – Te Mana o te Wai


  1. Te Mana o te Wai is a concept that refers to the fundamental importance of water and recognises that protecting the health of freshwater protects the health and well-being of the wider environment. It protects the mauri of the wai. Te Mana o te Wai is about restoring and preserving the balance between the water, the wider environment, and the community.
  2. Te Mana o te Wai is relevant to all freshwater management and not just to the specific aspects of freshwater management referred to in this National Policy Statement.


  3. Te Mana o te Wai encompasses 6 principles relating to the roles of tangata whenua and other New Zealanders in the management of freshwater, and these principles inform this National Policy Statement and its implementation.
  4.  The 6 principles are:
    1. Mana whakahaere: the power, authority, and obligations of tangata whenua to make decisions that maintain, protect, and sustain the health and well-being of, and their relationship with, freshwater
    2. Kaitiakitanga: the obligations of tangata whenua to preserve, restore, enhance, and sustainably use freshwater for the benefit of present and future generations
    3. Manaakitanga: the process by which tangata whenua show respect, generosity, and care for freshwater and for others
    4. Governance: the responsibility of those with authority for making decisions about freshwater to do so in a way that prioritises the health and well-being of freshwater now and into the future
    5. Stewardship: the obligations of all New Zealanders to manage freshwater in a way that ensures it sustains present and future generations
    6. Care and respect: the responsibility of all New Zealanders to care for freshwater in providing for the health of the nation.
  5. There is a hierarchy of obligations in Te Mana o te Wai that prioritises:
    1. first, the health and well-being of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems
    2. second, the health needs of people (such as drinking water)
    3. third, the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being, now and in the future

Policy intent

What is Te Mana o te Wai?

Te Mana o te Wai draws on well-established te ao Māori concepts. It recognises the mana and mauri of water, and the relationship between water and tangata whenua. It refers to the vital importance of water. Te Mana o te Wai requires that we first protect the health and well-being of water and then provide for people’s needs, before enabling other uses of water. By protecting the health and well-being of our freshwater, we contribute to the protection of the health and well-being of our people.

Te Mana o te Wai expresses the special connection all New Zealanders have with freshwater. The health and well-being  of freshwater is at the centre of all management decisions, working towards restoring and protecting the mauri of freshwater.

Te Mana o te Wai has implications for the relationships between local authorities and tangata whenua, and the involvement of tangata whenua in managing freshwater.

Applying Te Mana o te Wai locally

The requirement to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai is set nationally, but it will be applied locally. Councils, through active involvement with tangata whenua, and engagement and discussion with communities, will determine how to apply Te Mana o te Wai locally, based on the visions and tikanga of its people.

Determining how to apply Te Mana o te Wai locally is the vital first step in implementing the NPS-FM. It will be difficult to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai if it is not clear what it means in a particular location.

Regional councils must include an objective in the regional policy statement that describes how the management of freshwater in the region will give effect to Te Mana o te Wai. This does not need to ‘define’ Te Mana o te Wai but it must describe how management will give effect to it. This could include outcomes for the freshwater itself, how decision-making should occur, or how to enhance or restore relationships with freshwater.

What has changed since 2014?

Te Mana o te Wai was first included in the NPS-FM in 2014 . This NPS-FM recognised the national significance of Te Mana o te Wai by recognising a variety of related values. This was strengthened by amendments made to the NPS-FM in 2017, which set out an intention to put the health and well-being of freshwater bodies at “the forefront of discussions and decisions about freshwater”. An objective and policy were added at that time requiring councils to “recognise and consider” Te Mana o te Wai.

The NPS-FM contains a cascading set of provisions – from the general to the specific. In respect of Te Mana o te Wai, the NPS-FM framework moves from general matters of principle to more specific policies that apply the principles, and then to even more specific provisions on how local authorities must give effect to Te Mana o te Wai in practice. No single reference or clause in the NPS-FM referring to Te Mana o te Wai should be read in isolation from the overall framework of the NPS-FM or the RMA that governs it.

The NPS-FM 2020 strengthens and clarifies Te Mana o te Wai by:

  • placing it as the fundamental concept for freshwater management
  • setting out its six principles
  • incorporating the hierarchy of obligations inherent in Te Mana o te Wai into the sole objective of the NPS-FM
  • requiring that freshwater is managed in a way that “gives effect to Te Mana o te Wai” (Policy 1, p 10) 

The fundamental concept – Te Mana o te Wai

Clause 1.3 sets out the fundamental concept of Te Mana o te Wai. It requires that the needs and mauri of water drive freshwater-management decisions.

To learn more, see this series of short videos on YouTube funded by the Ministry and produced by Kāhui Wai Māori.


Te Mana o te Wai protects the mauri of the wai. Mauri is not defined in the NPS-FM. It is a te ao Māori concept that speaks both to the life energy that flows through all things and the interconnectedness of all things.

In te ao Māori, a Māori world view, freshwater comes from the parting of Ranginui (sky father) and Papatūānuku (earth mother). These gods share a whakapapa (genealogy) with Māori people, and this underpins the connected relationship that Māori have with the natural environment – mountains, forests and waters. All these elements are therefore related and hold their own mauri (life force), a mauri that must continue in order to propagate life.

Source: Stepping into freshwater

Six principles

The principles of Te Mana o te Wai underscore the importance of whakapapa in protecting mauri.

  • Mana whakahaere, kaitiakitanga and manaakitanga are rights and obligations of tangata whenua to manage, protect and use freshwater that derive from their whakapapa relationship to that wai.
  • Governance, stewardship, and care and respect: these reflect the role of all other New Zealanders.

These principles should be reflected in the local expression of Te Mana o te Wai, including planning and ongoing implementation.

Restoring the balance

Clause 1.3 refers to “restoring and preserving the balance between the water, the wider environment, and the community”. The reference to ‘balance’ isn’t intended to signal a trade-off between Te Mana o te Wai and other goals. It emphasises that healthy freshwater is a prerequisite for a healthy wider environment and community, and that it is vital to keep those elements in balance.

Hierarchy of obligations

Te Mana o te Wai has a hierarchy of obligations. This hierarchy is incorporated into the objective of the NPS-FM.

  1. The first priority is the health and well-being of the water body, ahead of any human uses of that water.
  2. The second is people’s health needs (such as drinking water).
  3. The third is providing for other types of well-being.

Applying the hierarchy of obligations

The hierarchy requires a fundamental change to the way in which some resource managers have considered managing freshwater. It requires us to identify what is needed to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai, before deciding what other values can be accommodated in the catchment. The starting point is providing for the well-being of the water body not the current state of allocation or considering ‘how much are we willing to give up?’.

Te Mana o te Wai does not require all activities to come to a halt, nor that all water bodies must be restored to a pristine state before other needs in the hierarchy can be addressed (ie, drinking water). However, it requires you to understand existing pressures and prioritise the hierarchy based on what is there, and also requires that decisions are made that provide for activities without detracting from Te Mana o te Wai. In degraded water bodies this will require changes to current resource use, to restore Te Mana o te Wai. New development may proceed but in a way that gives effect to Te Mana o te Wai. This means economic gain, urban development or lifestyle activities cannot come at the expense of the health of a water body.

Priority 1 – The health and well-being of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems

The first priority has two components:

  • the health and well-being of water bodies, and
  • the health and well-being of freshwater ecosystems.
Health and well-being of water bodies

The health and well-being of the wai itself as an interconnected whole, with mana of its own, must be provided for as a first priority. This includes its metaphysical aspects and its physical being. Providing for this will overlap with providing for a healthy ecosystem, but providing for the mauri of a water body may mean going beyond the concept of ecosystems. For example, providing for a water body to express its natural form and character by moving within its bed, or changing course or connecting with riparian areas, will be a necessary part of providing for the mana of some rivers. Part of this ability to move and express form will be captured by the ‘habitat’ component of ecosystem health. However, it may encompass wider considerations of the intrinsic value of the river.

Understanding what the holistic health and well-being of a water body means, and how to express it, will come from conversations with tangata whenua when gaining a local understanding of Te Mana o te Wai. Tangata whenua may use integrated concepts like mahinga kai* to indicate the overall health of the water. The description of the mahinga kai value in appendix 1A of the NPS-FM includes “kei te ora te mauri (the mauri of the place is intact)” for this reason.

One way to ensure the health and well-being of water bodies is by applying the NOF. Policy 5 in the NPS-FM requires that this is at least maintained, and, in some circumstances, improved. For more detail, see the section Policy 5 and the direction to ‘maintain or improve’ in this guidance.

*Mahinga kai generally refers to freshwater species that have traditionally been used as food, tools or other resources. It also refers to the places those species are found and to the act of catching or harvesting them.

Health and well-being of freshwater ecosystems

The definition of healthy freshwater ecosystem in appendix 1A of the NPS-FM describes some aspects required under this priority:

In a healthy freshwater ecosystem, all 5 biophysical components are suitable to sustain the indigenous aquatic life expected in the absence of human disturbance or alteration (before providing for other values).

This indicates a high standard of health is expected – merely ‘surviving’ will not be enough – but it does not necessarily mean a water body must be pristine or returned to a pre-human state. For more on the five components, see the ecosystem health factsheet.

The national bottom lines in appendix 2A of the NPS-FM indicate that a state below them will not achieve a healthy ecosystem. However, although the state of health appropriate to a particular water body, and the time taken to achieve it, is a choice for tangata whenua and communities to consider through the NOF process, the final decision-making on this lies with councils.

Priority 2 – The health needs of people

This priority comes after providing for the water body itself and before providing for any other use.

Any measures to meet people’s needs must not degrade the mauri of any natural freshwater body. If they do (eg, taking water for town supply when the river is at low flow, so that the river dries up), councils must change their management to restore the mauri.

Previous versions of the NPS-FM referred to the need to “safeguard the health of people and communities” as affected by secondary contact (NPS-FM 2014 version) or any contact with freshwater (2017 amendments) alongside safeguarding freshwater ecosystems. The NPS-FM now gives the well-being of the water body priority over the health needs of people.

Drinking water

For human health, the reference to health needs is intended to include drinking water. Councils should identify water bodies that are sources of drinking water and ensure the water quality remains suitable. This is supported by the regulations in the National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water 2007.

Other uses

Municipal takes include multiple uses, among them drinking water, but councils also routinely take water for commercial use or irrigation. Priority 2 does not apply to these takes as a whole, although parts, eg, those that relate to drinking water, will apply. In practice, drawing a distinction between the final use that potable water is put to in a municipal supply situation will be a challenge. However, councils should consider ways to distinguish between these different uses. Interpretations of the hierarchy of obligations in plans and policy statements should not be diluted by providing for ‘other uses’ of municipal water takes, with a blanket assumption they fall under priority two.

Waste discharge

The health needs of people were not intended to extend to water bodies carrying away waste. Sewage discharges to water are not directed to have higher priority than any other kind of discharge, when considering what a water body can assimilate. The community may choose to prioritise those discharges when allocating contaminant discharges among users in the third priority. However, this is not required in order to give effect to the second priority. This consideration may extend to decisions on when and if to reduce some discharges ahead of others.

Mahinga kai

Where the compulsory value mahinga kai involves people undertaking cultural harvest of food, councils should ensure the water quality supports that practice, and that the food is safe to eat.

Swimming and other immersion

People’s health needs may include swimming and other contact with water, for example, cultural practices that require immersion. Councils, after actively involving tangata whenua and engaging the community, need to decide if this constitutes a ‘need’. The local understanding of Te Mana o te Wai will inform this decision. Many tangata whenua will consider safe contact with water an essential health need, consistent with Te Mana o te Wai and the relationship of Māori with water in that rohe.

For recreational or cultural immersion, the water quality should be safe. The national bottom lines and national target for safe swimming in appendix 3 of the NPS-FM help ensure this.

Priority 3 – Social, cultural and economic well-being

After meeting the first two priorities, councils, tangata whenua and the wider community need to provide for other social, economic and cultural well-being, now and into the future. This can only be to the extent they do not compromise the higher priorities. For example, Appendix 1B lists “other values that must be considered” when determining values for an FMU. Appendix 1B values include, among others, “Animal drinking water”, “Irrigation, cultivation, and production of food and beverages”, “Commercial and industrial use” and “Fishing”. If identified, these values must be provided for within the limits set to achieve priority 1 and 2.

Policy 15 in the NPS-FM requires an enabling approach, within the constraints of the higher priorities. This requires conversations about:

  • what is needed to provide for well-being
  • how to reach multiple goals
  • allocating resources, particularly where water bodies are over-allocated or degraded.

In some places it will require plans to reduce contaminants or water use (‘claw back’).

To prioritise well-being now and in the future, councils must consider the foreseeable needs of future generations. This means maintaining options for using resources, access to resources and their quality; this is a part of sustainable management.

What does this mean when considering values?

Values of water bodies must be identified as part of the NOF. This will involve deciding the extent to which particular values are provided for, especially when water is scarce, over-allocated or degraded.

Priority 1 and the objective of the NPS-FM call for prioritising values that contribute to the water body’s health and well-being over those that do not.

Some values clearly sit under priority 1, for example, ecosystem health and threatened species. For other values, only certain components may be relevant. For example, where ‘natural form and character’ contribute to the health and well-being of the water body, this should be a first priority.