Protecting freshwater health

Fresh water matters to all New Zealanders. It's vital we look after it, using it in ways that provide the best environmental, social, cultural, and economic outcomes. Find out about freshwater reform and other programmes improving freshwater management.

The Essential Freshwater package

New rules to protect and restore New Zealand's fresh water came into effect on 3 September 2020. This included the new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F), stock exclusion regulations, and updates to the regulations which cover the measurement and reporting of water takes. These regulations deliver on the Government's commitment to stop further degradation, show material improvements within 5 years, and restore our waterways to health within a generation.

Essential Freshwater work programme – Ministry for the Environment (MfE)

Government media release: Cleaning up our rivers and lakes – Beehive

The package was the culmination of a major work programme over 18 months, including the Action for Healthy Waterways consultation in 2019

The Ministry for the Environment website has more information about how the package will achieve its objectives, how it was developed, and who was involved.

Advisory groups for the Essential Freshwater work programme – MfE

Essential freshwater new rules and regulations – MfE

National policy statement for freshwater management 2020 – MfE

Actions to be taken

The package will achieve its objectives through a range of actions. Further degradation will be stopped through:

  • controlling works affecting wetlands, streams, and fish passage
  • ensuring good practice where intensive winter grazing is needed
  • minimum standards for feedlots and stock holding areas
  • limiting farm intensification.

Within 5 years (from 2020) we will see improvements in our rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands. This will be achieved through:

  • stock exclusion in low-slope areas with minimum setbacks from rivers and streams
  • a cap on synthetic fertiliser to reduce nitrogen use
  • the at-risk catchment programme
  • support for farmers and catchment groups.

Information sheets about the freshwater regulations

Fact sheets explaining the details of the full Essential Freshwater package of regulations are on the Ministry for the Environment website.

Stock exclusion regulations – MfE

Synthetic nitrogen fertiliser cap – MfE

Agricultural intensification regulations – MfE

All fact sheets on policies in the Essential Freshwater package of regulations – MfE

How the package was developed

A multi-agency water taskforce worked with the Ministry for the Environment on developing the package, with 4 specialist groups also advising. During consultation in 2019, the Ministry for the Environment received 17,500 submissions. Specialist expert agencies were also asked to analyse the economic, scientific, and social impacts of the package.

Freshwater policy advice briefings and related information

The following documents are the policy advice briefings provided on the Essential Freshwater package to the Minister of Agriculture between 27 June 2019 and 22 May 2020.

This covers the period between when the package was publicly consulted on and when the final decisions were announced on 28 May 2020.

Find joint agency briefings and other documents on the MfE website

Other freshwater briefings


Action for healthy waterways

The MfE website has further information on the Action for healthy waterways package, including:

  • Cabinet papers
  • impact analysis reports
  • submissions related to the final policy decisions
  • information sheets for different groups.

Action for healthy waterways – MfE

Good farm practices

Industry bodies also have information and guidance on good farm practice:

Dairy NZ

Beef + Lamb

Horticulture NZ

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions about freshwater or related programmes, email

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