The government has quietly formed a 40-strong Water Reform Directorate in the Ministry for the Environment to respond to last week's report of the four-year experiment in consensus policy-making, the Land and Water Forum.
In a move welcomed by water sector watchers as a sign the LAWF process will produce major improvements in freshwater allocation and management, the directorate was established in August, drawing on officials from a range of disparate government agencies.
These include representatives from MfE, the Ministries of Primary Industries and Business, Innovation and Employment, and the Departments of Conservation and Internal Affairs, Treasury, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Office of Treaty Settlements.
The directorate appears to be a response to concerns that too many agencies have had partial responsibility for freshwater policy, leading to fragmented advice.
Last week's LAWF report contained major recommendations to create a nationally guided, locally decided system for allocating freshwater resources among industrial, municipal, recreational, agricultural, iwi and other users.
Primary Industries and Environment Ministers David Carter and Amy Adams welcomed the report, saying it provided a foundation for the government to complete its consideration of an issue that has become urgent as New Zealand waterways have become increasingly polluted and over-allocated.
"At this stage it is planned that it will be in place until about the end of March 2013," environment deputy secretary, policy, Guy Beatson, says in a statement supplied to BusinessDesk.
The directorate is headed by a senior MfE official Kay Harrison, reporting to Paul Reynolds (MfE and chairman of the Natural Resource Sector agencies) and Wayne McNee (MPI) as project sponsors.
"The timing of the setting up of the directorate reflected the need to gear up to provide timely advice on the Land and Water Forum recommendations," Mr Beatson says. "Officials have been able to begin preparing advice based on the first two reports, while waiting on the finalisation of the third report.
"By co-locating this team of specialist analysts and advisors, the directorate is providing an all-of-government perspective to the water reform work, which is a key environmental and economic priority for the Government.
"Agencies may continue to provide separate second-opinion advice to their Ministers – although the more collaborative approach made possible by a cross-agency directorate will narrow the issues on which they may wish to suggest different approaches to ministers."
The approach is consistent with the government's Better Public Services initiative to improve collaboration in the bureaucracy.
"It is something we expect to see more often, especially across the Natural Resources Sector agencies, which deal with complex, cross-cutting issues," Mr Beatson says.