Improving urban freshwater ecosystem health : drivers and barriers to public participation.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
Growing public scrutiny of freshwater quality issues throughout the country highlights their importance to the people of New Zealand. This unprecedented concern has been matched with the establishment of community-based initiatives, such as river networks and stream care groups. This research explores whether these can be part of the solution towards improving urban freshwater ecosystem health, a term that encapsulates both ecological integrity and societal values. It draws on international literature, semi-structured interviews and a study area of the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River catchment in order to identify ways in which public participation can be part of improving urban freshwater ecosystem health.
A methodological approach grounded in social science foundations was employed. A comparative model was created that identified the key components of public participation. This comparative model was then utilised as a sorting mechanism to analyse seven published case studies of public participation in environmental based initiatives. Semi-structured interviews were then conducted in Christchurch to gain insights from interviewees on the state of local urban waterways, responsibility for their management, and how community-based initiatives can be integrated into urban freshwater management and decision-making regimes. Interviewees were sought from a range of backgrounds-including freshwater science and management professionals, local iwi, and members of community-based initiatives. This allowed a holistic and multi-dimensional perspective of the issue (s) to be framed.
Valuable insights were derived for the study area, the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River catchment, an urban catchment in Christchurch that consistently displays poor freshwater health. Several themes were identified pertinent to the drivers and barriers of public participation in improving urban freshwater ecosystem health. The primary themes discussed were the development of a relationship with the freshwater ecosystems as the driver, and operational obstacles as the barrier to public participation. Findings derived through this research can be applied in the context of a citywide community water partnership that is currently under development. A partnership approach presents an opportunity to co-produce meaningful outcomes that could be used to address urban freshwater issues. Community-based initiatives play a pivotal role in improving urban freshwater ecosystem health. However, these groups are only one part of the solution. There is a need to develop further environmental literacy among the wider public, paired with sincere support from regulatory authorities, if there is to be a genuine interest in improving urban freshwater ecosystem health.