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.

UPDATE – 28 May 2020

The Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Agriculture have announced the Action for healthy waterways package. It introduces new rules and regulations to:

  • stop further degradation of New Zealand's freshwater resources and improve water quality within 5 years
  • reverse past damage and bring New Zealand's freshwater resources, waterways, and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation.

The policies have changed significantly from the proposals released for consultation in 2019. The package takes into account more than 17,500 public submissions, and recommendations from the independent advisory panel. It was also amended in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. More details are on the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) website.

The Essential Freshwater work programme

We have been working on the Essential Freshwater work programme since it was launched in October 2018. The Ministry for the Environment and other Government agencies have also been involved.

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

  • the Freshwater Leaders Group
  • Kahui 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.

Essential Freshwater work programme – MfE

The water taskforce received a record 17,500 submissions. Specialist expert agencies were also asked to analyse the economic, scientific, and social impacts of the package.

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.

Further information

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:

Other past 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

Who to contact

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

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