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Critically interrogating freshwater policy through a lens of lake health

Authors: Kiely McFarlane*, Cawthron Institute, Charlotte Šunde, Cawthron Institute
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology, Legal Geography
Keywords: lakes, freshwater, policy, New Zealand, legal geography
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Jurisdictions worldwide are seeking to reform their freshwater policies to enable better management and protection of freshwater environments. Lakes, as depositional environments, represent a particular challenge to policy makers and implementers, in that they accumulate the effects of past changes in land and water use, and respond slowly to management interventions. This presentation critically examines New Zealand’s freshwater policy through a lens of lake health, drawing on analysis of legislation, interviews with policy experts, and lake visits. Freshwater policy is conceptualised as including State legislation, regulations, science, and decision-making, as well as local government plans, policies, and actions. Our analysis reveals that freshwater policy has been largely ineffective at preventing or addressing lowland lake degradation. Effects-based, reactive resource management legislation has proven inadequate to mitigate a history of State-sanctioned extractive development, and when combined with limited monitoring and weak regulatory enforcement, has contributed to the neglect of lake environments. Interviews reveal that these policy limitations did not arise in isolation, but are co-constituted with socio-economic relationships to and material dimensions of lakes. Specifically, privatisation of lake access, engineering of lake environments, and invisibility of limnological processes and trajectories have contributed to limited societal appreciation of lake values and threats, reinforcing the neglect of lakes in national policy. Analysis of freshwater policy’s co-constitution thus highlights the need for a plurality of socio-cultural, scientific, and regulatory interventions to improve lake health. Importantly, local and Indigenous efforts to protect lake environments signal pathways to reconnecting with and revaluing lakes.

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