Two months ago the Whanganui River, like Te Urewera in 2014, became a legal entity and this will inevitably lead to disruptive change in how businesses – particularly agri-businesses and manufacturing – and local/regional authorities conduct their activities. This can only be a positive thing but will need a creative approach by everyone. A book by Catherine Knight – New Zealand Rivers: An Environmental History – describes our trajectory to this point, where legislation is needed to force a change in our business and social practices so that inter-generational sustainability can be honoured.
I believe this approach is likely to spread throughout the country, and indeed the world. In March also, legislation was passed in India which also affords a similar legal status on the Ganges River. The pollution there is on a grand scale with estimates of 1.5bn litres of untreated sewage and 500m litres of industrial waste being dumped into the Ganges daily.
From a governance perspective, this might be a risk-management challenge in the short term but is a major opportunity-management challenge in the longer term.
Whanganui River gains own legal identity with all the corresponding rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person.