New Three Waters Māori head appointed

The new head of the Three Waters Māori arm says she is expecting to bring insight and experience to the role and help to build more effective relationships and partnerships between the government and iwi Māori.

Maria Nepia, Nō Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Rā-Kaipaaka is the new acting executive director Three Waters Iwi Māori at Te Tari Tai-whenua, the Department of Internal Affairs.

The government is progressing reforms so that drinking water, stormwater and wastewater, will be provided by four publicly-owned entities from July 2024 rather than owned by individual councils. The reforms are intended to finance improvements to water infrastructure, particularly in areas where councils have found it difficult to even keep up maintenance. Most recently, Wellington City Council had major sewerage issues when pipes under its main streets collapsed from old age and spread sewage above ground.

Maria Nepia talked to Te Ao Tapatahi to discuss her role and how important it is for the future of iwi Māori and government relations.

Nepia’s aspirations for this appointment are that by 2024, “we have four water service entities that are influenced by iwi and hapu”.

“At its simplest form, we want co-governance and co-chairing is anticipated.”

The plan of working with iwi and the government requires the formation of a “really good team to help the transition of the water assets into the water service entity”.

Nepia said her experience on the Tuwharetoa Trust board and in iwi environmental planning helped her to prepare for the new role as “there are a number of complex relationships and arrangements with central governments, private organisations and local government”, which had shown her that, with good relationships and problem-solving attitudes, a lot could be achieved by all parties involved.

Nepia said her future role will be surrounded by an “awesome team”, her preferred way to operate. “It’s about the kaupapa and having that team. I feel really fortunate about that.”

Nepia’s next step with her team is to re-establish communication with iwi and hapu in coming weeks.