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.

Clean Water package 2017

Since 2009 the Government has been reforming freshwater management, together with the Land and Water Forum, iwi, regional councils and others.

The Clean Water package, a set of proposals announced on 23 February 2017, is the latest part of the reform programme. It includes:

  • a target that 90% per cent of 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 launches the $100 million Freshwater Improvement Fund.

Consultation document

We want your feedback on the proposals for improving freshwater management – these are outlined in the consultation document. Submissions close at 5pm on 25 May 2017.

The freshwater reform programme

The Government launched the joint Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Ministry for the Environment (MfE) programme of freshwater reform in June 2009. The aim is to reform our management of freshwater to deliver better environmental and economic outcomes. The reform programme is about:

  • limits on water use and discharge of contaminants
  • communities making collaborative decisions about their water resources
  • more national direction.

The full package of reforms will be rolled out over a few years as decisions are made and policy is developed. The reforms will be introduced in steps and within realistic timeframes, so existing businesses have time to adjust without undue hardship.

Objectives of freshwater reform

Freshwater reform began because of concerns about deteriorating water quality and quantity in parts of New Zealand. The Government wants a framework based on agreed science to:

  • maintain or improve water quality
  • optimise water for the best environmental, economic and social outcomes
  • provide national bottom lines for human health and ecosystem health
  • protect wetlands
  • provide better monitoring, measurement and management of fresh water.

We also have to balance different interests and values in water.

The Ministry for the Environment's website has more information about the reform programme:

Land and Water Forum

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

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).

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.

What the reforms have achieved so far

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

Download a full freshwater reform timeline – MfE website

Policy statement gives direction

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

In a nutshell, 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 freshwater 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 extensive information and guidance available on their websites:

Reports to help decision-making

We want to help communities make decisions with their councils about local rivers and waterways by providing information and guidance.

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

The reports, commissioned by MPI and the Ministry for the Environment, provide:

  • cost-benefit analysis of different management approaches
  • the best solutions depending on catchment goals
  • evaluation of different approaches to freshwater 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 programmes

MPI supports a range of other programmes that help improve freshwater 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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