Journal article Open Access
Fresh waters are among the most seriously threatened ecosystems on the planet and managing them for good ecological and human health and wellbeing is one of the challenges of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The inadequate successes of decades-long attempts to restore aquatic biodiversity casts doubt on the effectiveness of common top-down driven approaches which focus solely on ecological and socio-economic objectives. Approaches based on public engagement that take into account cultural values and knowledge of local communities are a way forward to enhance environmental management while improving people’s wellbeing. Little guidance on the integration of diverse values is provided in respective directives. We demonstrate a values-based framework based on Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) to integrate diverse values in the development of a catchment management plan for the Lake Wānaka catchment in Aotearoa/New Zealand, which is one of the few countries that mandates that action plans for fresh waters be developed based on a community water vision. The MCDA-framework successfully wove together diverse cultural, ecological, and socio-economic values in a co-developed freshwater management plan with buy-in from the community. In particular, clearly translating values into objectives and structuring them allowed the identification of potential management actions that target current system deficits and the ranking of potential management actions based on the objective assessment of their performance against all objectives. In terms of management actions, stakeholder-specific preferences did not lead to rank reversals, highlighting the community’s unity in the local water vision which is an optimal basis upon which to agree on a collective action plan. Based on this case study, we recommend values-based approaches such as MCDA as a way forward to develop inclusive freshwater co-management not only in New Zealand, where community input to management is mandated, but elsewhere as well.