Fresh water

Fresh water matters to all New Zealanders. It is vital we look after it to achieve sustainable and productive uses that maximise environmental, economic, social, and cultural benefits to New Zealand.

The freshwater reform programme

The Government launched a joint Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Ministry for the Environment (MfE) programme of freshwater reform in June 2009. The reform's aim is to manage our management of freshwater to deliver better environmental and economic outcomes.

The reform programme is about:

  • limits on water use and discharges of contaminants
  • communities making collaborative decisions about their water resources
  • more national direction.

Objectives of freshwater reform

Freshwater reform began because of concerns about deteriorating water quality and quantity in parts of New Zealand. The Government wants a framework based on agreed science to:

  • maintain or improve water quality
  • optimise water for the best environmental, economic and social outcomes
  • national bottom lines for human health and ecosystem health
  • protection for wetlands
  • better monitoring, measurement and management.

We also have to balance different interests and values in water.

The Ministry for the Environment's website has more information about the reform programme:

Land and Water Forum

The Land and Water Forum was established in 2009 to advise the Government on freshwater reform. Its members represent over 65 stakeholder organisations.

In November 2015, the Forum released the Fourth Report of the Land and Water Forum on how to maximise the economic benefits of fresh water while meeting water quality and quantity limits, which have been set using the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014.

The forum's report:

  • recommended excluding livestock from waterways on plains and lowland hills
  • addressed a number of urban issues
  • suggested tools and approaches to help the Crown explore the rights and interests of iwi.

What the reforms have achieved so far

The full package of reforms will be rolled out over a few years as decisions are made and policy is developed. The reforms will be introduced in steps and within realistic timeframes so existing businesses have time to adjust without undue hardship.

Between 2009 and February 2016 the Government:

  • introduced nationwide standards for water metering in 2009
  • developed a National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011
  • in 2014, introduced environmental bottom lines for freshwater quality into the National Objectives Framework
  • in 2016, began consulting on the next phase of proposed reforms.

The future of freshwater reform

We have made good progress in freshwater reform since 2009 with the help of primary sector stakeholders. However, we still have more work to do to improve the way we use and manage our water resources.

2016 consultation – more reforms planned

A consultation document was released on 20 February 2016 with proposals on:

  • amending the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management to improve national direction
  • excluding stock from water bodies through regulation
  • the more efficient use of freshwater and good management practice
  • iwi rights and interests in freshwater
  • setting up 'Next Steps for Freshwater Improvement Fund'.

Submissions closed on 22 April 2016.

National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (NPS-FM) provides direction about how local authorities should carry out their responsibilities under the Resource Management Act 1991 for managing fresh water resources.

In a nutshell, the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management directs regional councils to set objectives for the state their communities want for their water bodies in the future and to set limits to meet these objectives.

Impact on farmers and growers

Everyone needs to play their part in protecting our freshwater resources. For many farmers and growers this will mean a change in practice to manage within limits. To learn more about the specific rules and timeframes in your region contact your regional council.

Industry bodies also have extensive information and guidance available on their websites:

The Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord

The Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord was launched in July 2013. It sets out the dairy industry's commitment to New Zealand to improve water quality across 5 areas:

  • riparian management
  • nutrient management
  • effluent management
  • water use management
  • responsible conversions.

The first annual progress report details what the Accord achieved in its first year of operation from June 2013 to May 2014.

Catchment land use for environmental sustainability (CLUES)

CLUES is a GIS-based modelling system to assess the effects of land use changes on water quality and socio-economic indicators. MPI and NIWA developed it with various other research organisations. NIWA now manages the CLUES system and anyone can use the software.

MPI uses the models generated by CLUES to inform our policy development. MPI also supplies much of the data that underpins the CLUES models, which are available for anyone to use.


OVERSEER is a widely used strategic management tool that supports farmers and growers to improve performance and reduce losses to the environment through better use of nutrients on-farm to support New Zealand agriculture.


MPI funds a number of initiatives to support and enhance our natural resources, like water and soil.

Last reviewed: | Has this been useful? Give us your feedback
Document cart