In the context of water management, designing and implementing bottom-up governance regimes that are more sensitive to local knowledge and provide for the direct participation of local actors is of growing interest. Mechanisms that facilitate the successful devolution of authority to local actors remain a challenge, however. This article seeks to understand whether the â€˜Rights of Natureâ€™ approach could be a used as a mechanism for transferring decision-making responsibility to local actors. A case study of the Whanganui River, Aotearoa New Zealand, suggests that granting legal rights to nature does help foster more bottom-up governance by using the social norms, customs, traditions, beliefs, and values of individuals within the community to shape the decision-making framework. The analysis highlights the role that local beliefs and customs play in enabling the transfer of decision-making responsibility to lower levels of an institutional arrangement when implementing the â€˜Rights of Natureâ€™ approach.