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, economic, social, and cultural outcomes. Find out about freshwater reform and other programmes improving freshwater management.

The Essential Freshwater work programme

New rules to protect and restore New Zealand’s freshwater passed into law on 5 August 2020. This includes the new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-FW), stock exclusion regulations, and regulations in the measurement and reporting of water takes. These regulations deliver on the Government’s commitment to stop further degradation, show material improvements within five years and restore our waterways to health within a generation.

Essential Freshwater work programme – MfE

Action for healthy waterways

On 28 May 2020 the Government announced the Action for healthy waterways package. This aims to stop further degradation, make immediate improvements, and restore waterways within a generation.

The Action for healthy waterways package is the culmination of a major work programme over 18 months. Experts from the primary sector, Māori, scientists and academics, environmental groups, local government, and members of the public have all had a hand in bringing the package together.

Actions to be taken

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

  • stopping 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 we will see improvements in our rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands. This will be achieved through:

  • stock exclusion in low-slope areas with a 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.

What the package includes

To get us onto a path to restore our waterways in a generation, the package includes:

  • a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management – including Te Mana o te Wai, new values, and new attributes
  • a new planning process, for faster and nationally consistent regional plans
  • mandatory and enforceable freshwater farm plans
  • requirements for real-time measuring and reporting of data on water use.

How the package was developed

A multi-agency water taskforce developed the package, working with 4 specialist advisory groups. The groups were:

  • the Freshwater Leaders Group
  • Kāhui Wai Māori
  • the science and technical advisory group
  • the Essential Freshwater regional sector group.

In September and October 2019, national public consultation was held on:

  • the proposed National policy statement for freshwater management
  • the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater
  • regulations under section 360 of the Resource Management Act.

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.

Other freshwater briefings


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

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

Past freshwater programmes

MPI has supported other programmes that help improve freshwater management through better:

  • dairy farming
  • nutrient management
  • catchment monitoring
  • irrigation.

Find out about our other programmes

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Background and past activity

2009 fresh water reform

The Government launched the joint MPI and MfE programme of fresh water reform in June 2009. The programme has ended, and the Government is now working on fresh water reform through the Essential Freshwater Reform Programme.

Timeline of fresh water reforms

2009 – Introduced nationwide standards for water metering
2011 – Developed National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater Management
2014 – Placed the National Objectives Framework in the Freshwater NPS, introducing bottom lines for fresh water quality
2016 – Consulted on next phase of proposed reforms
2017 – Consultation on Clean Water 2017
2018 – The Essential Freshwater Work Programme was established

Download a full freshwater reform timeline – MfE

Clean Water package 2017

The Clean Water package was a set of proposals that were announced on 23 February 2017. They were a part of the reform programme. The package included:

  • a target that 90% per centof our rivers and lakes are swimmable by 2040
  • greater information on our water quality for swimming
  • proposals for changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014
  • details of proposals to exclude stock from waterways.

It also launched the $100 million Freshwater Improvement Fund.

Find out about the Freshwater Improvement Fund – MfE

Land and Water Forum

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

Visit the forum's website to learn more about its role

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 (set in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014). Following this final report, the Forum has decided to put itself into abeyance.

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.

National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014

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

The NPS-FM directs regional councils to set:

  • objectives for the future state of their water bodies (in consultation with their communities)
  • limits to meet these objectives.
Past reports to help decision-making

Three reports published in February 2017 will help central government, local government, and communities with fresh water management.

The reports, commissioned by MPI and MfE, provided:

  • cost-benefit analysis of different management approaches
  • the best solutions depending on catchment goals
  • evaluation of different approaches to fresh water management.

The reports helped provide the evidence behind the proposals in the Clean Water package.

A number of technical publications supporting the reports are also available.


Technical reports

Who to contact

If you have questions about freshwater or related programmes, email

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