Fresh water

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.

Improving fresh water quality in New Zealand

We're involved in the Government's Essential Freshwater Work Programme. The programme's 3 main objectives to achieve by 2020 are to:

  • stop further degradation and loss
  • reverse past damage
  • address water allocation issues.

For more information about, read the Essential Freshwater: Healthy Water, Fairly Allocated document.

Download the document – Ministry for Environment website

Working with other agencies

To achieve the Programme's objectives, Government agencies are working to together as a task force. We're working with:

  • Ministry for the Environment
  • Treasury
  • Te Puni Kōkiri
  • Crown/Māori Relations Unit
  • Department of Internal Affairs
  • Department of Conservation
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

We're also working with local government.

Background and past activity

2009 fresh water reform

The Government launched the joint Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Ministry for the Environment (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 website

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 website

Public consultation

Submissions for the Clean Water package closed on 25 May 2017.

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.

Impact on farmers and growers

Everyone needs to play their part in protecting our fresh water and its 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 information and guidance on their websites:

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 the Ministry for the Environment, 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

Other past programmes

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

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

Who to contact

If you have questions about fresh water or related programmes, email

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