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.

UPDATE – 27 APRIL 2021

2021/2022 Intensive Winter Grazing Module

A module has been developed to help achieve immediate improvements in intensive winter grazing practices in 2021.

It highlights practical solutions farmers can take to mitigate the effects of grazing livestock on fodder crops during the winter months.

The module will be used to inform intensive winter grazing components of existing and new farm plans. It will also enable the components to be tested and incorporated into wider certified freshwater farm plans when they are rolled out from early 2022.

2021/2022 Intensive Winter Grazing Module – Government media release

2021/2022 Intensive Winter Grazing Module [PDF, 1.1 MB]

2021/2022 Intensive Winter Grazing Module – Template [PDF, 1.6 MB]

UPDATE – March 2021

Intensive winter grazing regulations delayed

The farming sector has agreed to make immediate improvements to intensive winter grazing practices for the coming season and the Government will help them achieve this.

In return for the farming sector’s commitment, the Government has deferred for a year the introduction of intensive winter grazing practice regulations in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020.

Read the Government's media release about deferring the regulations – Beehive

The intensive winter grazing regulations won't now come into effect until 1 May 2022 (instead of 1 May 2021).

Note: The regulations restricting further expansion of intensive winter grazing (the intensification rules) are not delayed. Expansion or new intensive winter grazing will still require a resource consent.

Check the existing rules that applied from 3 September 2020 – Ministry for the Environment

Reasons for the delay and benefits

The decision to delay applying these regulations takes into account feedback from the farming and regional sectors about the challenges associated with meeting and implementing the new requirements for intensive winter grazing in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater.

The delay will provide time for the government to assess whether change is required to the permitted activity conditions within the regulations, including for pugging and re-sowing dates. If any changes to the regulations are proposed, these will be released for public consultation before being finalised.

The delay also allows time for the certified freshwater farm plan regime to begin to be rolled out. Consultation on the regulations for certified freshwater farm plans is expected to take place in mid-2021. 

Improvements in winter grazing expected during the next year

In the meantime, practice is expected to noticeably improve, including a complete stop to the worst practices that impact on the environment.

Effective monitoring by councils, and action where necessary, is also expected during this period. This will ensure that improvements are being made and provide evidence that less contaminants are ending up in waterways.

Room to improve winter grazing practices welcomed – Environment Southland

About the Southland Advisory Group and its report – Environment Southland

What the delay means for farms using intensive winter grazing

The delayed regulations apply only to farms already undertaking intensive winter grazing between July 2014 and June 2019. No new or expanded intensive winter grazing activity can occur without a consent. This rule, one of the ‘intensification rules’ in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater is unchanged.

During the delay period:

  • Farmers already using intensive winter grazing can continue without needing a resource consent. However, improvements in practice are expected and councils will be monitoring this. Industry guides are available – see below.
  • a farm plan module for intensive winter grazing (incorporating good management principles) will be made available to provide clear guidance on acceptable practice
  • any existing regional plan provisions will still apply and councils will retain the ability to control this activity.  
Guides to winter grazing

Wintering cows on crops – DairyNZ

Forage Crop Grazing – Beef + Lamb NZ

After the delay period

When the intensive winter grazing regulations are reinstated in May 2022, the requirement to apply for a resource consent (if permitted activity conditions cannot be met) will apply again. Farmers with existing use rights will have 6 months from then to apply for a resource consent.

As the freshwater farm plan system rolls out from 2022, farmers will begin to have the option to undertake winter grazing through a certified plan, as an alternative to needing a resource consent (if they still cannot meet the permitted activity conditions).


The Essential Freshwater package

New rules to protect and restore New Zealand's freshwater came into effect on 3 September 2020. This includes 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 – 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

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

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 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.

Information sheets explaining the details of the full Essential Freshwater package of  regulations are on the Ministry for the Environment website. Below are links to the fact sheets most relevant for farmers and growers:

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.

Action for Healthy Waterways consultation in 2019

Read about the advisory groups involved in developing the package – MfE website

Towards a certified Freshwater Farm Plans system

The plan to establish  a certified Freshwater Farm Plans system is part of the Essential Freshwater package introduced in 2020 (see above).

The requirements for certified Freshwater Farm Plans will be set out in detailed regulations under Part 9A of the Resource Management Act. The detail of what certified FW-FPs will require and when they will start to apply is still being developed and will be consulted on around mid-2021, subject to Ministers' decisions.

As at early 2021, MPI and the Ministry for the Environment are in the process of developing options for the introduction of certified Freshwater Farm Plans.

MfE and MPI have been, and will continue, engaging with stakeholders and experts in farm planning (from industry, councils and Māori) to inform development of the proposed FW-FP regulations. This will include the Freshwater Implementation Group and others.

It will take time for the right resources, workforce and systems to be ready (at councils, in the advisory sector, and on-farm) to support the new certified FW-FP regime.

Farmers already using existing farm plans to manage environmental risks should continue using this, until the new FW-FP regime is in place in their area. Once the new requirements have been decided on, farms will be able to build on or adapt these as necessary to meet the new requirements for certified Freshwater Farm Plans.

Goals of the Freshwater Farm Plans system

To be effective for freshwater, the government recognises that a certified FW-FP system will need to be workable for regional councils and for farmers. The requirements need to be flexible enough to adapt to changing situations while being specific enough to hold farm operators to account if they're not taking the required actions.

The use of certified Freshwater Farm Plans is expected to work alongside other (non-mandatory) processes for continuous improvement in on-farm environmental management,

The intention is that Freshwater Farm Plans system will be an integrated process that can be tailored to cover the relevant requirements for each farm.  Each Freshwater Farm Plan will look different, depending on the system, the catchment area and local rules and issues, and community priorities, as well as industry and market quality assurance purposes.

The certified FreshWater Farm Plan (FW-FP) system will take time to roll out

The government does not expect every farm that needs a certified FW-FP will have one in place from day one.

We expect that those areas where a certified FW-FP is most urgently needed would be prioritised for the roll out. The criteria for how the prioritisation will look is yet to be confirmed, it could be based on regions, catchments, farm systems or practices, and/or other factors.

There will need to be appropriately trained and approved persons available to certify FW-FPs. The government is working to strengthen the advisory sector to increase the number of qualified people able to certify a FW-FP.

On-farm implementation will take time – it's a process

Implementing a certified Freshwater Farm Plan will be an ongoing process for each farm, not one-off event. Some actions that are identified in a farm's certified Freshwater Farm Plan may take several years to implement in some cases. It's about understanding a farm's risks and the issues facing the catchment in which the farm is located, and then taking appropriate action.

More information about MPI's Primary Industry Advisory Services work

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.

Joint agency briefings and other documents can be found by searching the MfE website

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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