South Wairarapa mayor Alex Beijen says the government's consultation and engagement with local iwi regarding three waters reforms has been "severely lacking".
But the government department leading the reforms has rebutted this and says it is committed to even more engagement with mana whenua as reforms progress.
Beijen voiced his concerns at a recent Wellington Water Committee meeting and other committee members agreed with him.
"One thing that has concerned me from the beginning is the consultation and engagement with iwi, and it seems to be severely lacking, certainly at a local level," Beijen said.
"To give you an idea, I had two iwi and a number of hapū come to me saying: "What is going on, because I have no knowledge and have never been contacted about this"."
But the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), which is leading the three waters reforms process, said it had engaged to its best ability with Wairarapa's two main iwi: Rangitāne o Wairarapa and Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.
It was confirmed last year that the government would create four publicly-owned water service entities to ensure every New Zealander has access to affordable, long-lasting drinking, waste and stormwater infrastructure without ballooning costs to households and families.
DIA deputy chief executive for local government Michael Lovett said that over the past two years the DIA had been committed to sharing information about the three waters reforms process with iwi Māori.
"Direct kanohi ki te kanohi engagement is our preferred way of engaging with iwi Māori," Lovett said.
"To complement this, we also have a range of tools to share information with iwi Māori such as newsletters and email updates.
"The challenges of Covid and aligning diaries for direct engagement have meant that we have not to date been able to meet directly with Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa.
"We have had several engagements with Rangitāne o Wairarapa at both the Iwi Authority level and with key advisors.
"With the government now indicating the reforms will progress on an 'all in approach', the department is looking to re-engage with mana whenua on the next phase of the reform, and we welcome the opportunity to work more closely with both iwi of the Wairarapa."
Just yesterday, the DIA announced the appointment of a new three waters executive director, Maria Nepia, who would focus on "working with iwi and Māori".
Lovett said the new position signalled the role iwi Māori would play in the three waters programme and across the local government system.
Under the three waters model, the governance of water service entities would be via regional representative groups which would be 50 percent council members and 50 percent iwi.
The new water service entities are set to be in place by July 2024.
Further concerns about a lack of government engagement with mana whenua were voiced at the recent Wellington Water Committee, backing up Beijen's comments.
Dougal List, who is leading the project to support Wellington region councils through the three waters reforms programme, said views on iwi consultation had been "mixed".
"What I have heard from some iwi, particularly larger iwi is that they feel they are well-informed and involved in the process and that there was good iwi representation through the working group process as well.
"Some other iwi groups/hapū feel they are not aware of the process that is going on.
"There is a mixed level of public understanding on the reforms.
"There is a need for better information on what the government is proposing."
Wellington Water iwi representative Lee Rauhine-August, of Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika, said she was feeling "very much out of sorts and very much out of information" regarding the reforms.
"Most people know zero about it and they think because ourselves, Ngāti Toa, and Wairarapa are on here [the committee], we might know something - which we don't."
Porirua City Council chief executive Wendy Walker said some hapū were feeling "quite dispossessed" and she had set up a hui to look at the issue.
"We've been quite keen not to over-explain the government's reform programme because it is the government's not ours," she said.
Lower Hutt mayor Campbell Barry said the Wellington Water Committee would be feeding the "message of inconsistency of how iwi have felt they have been engaged" to the DIA.
Local Democracy Reporting has contacted Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa and Rangitāne o Wairarapa for comment.
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air