National policy statement for freshwater management

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater 2020 provides local authorities with updated direction on how they should manage freshwater under the Resource Management Act 1991. 


Official title

National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020

Lead agency

Cross-government water taskforce

In force from

3 September 2020

Requirements of the Freshwater NPS

Requirements include:

  • Manage freshwater in a way that ‘gives effect’ to Te Mana o te Wai:
    • through involving tangata whenua 
    • working with tangata whenua and communities to set out long-term visions in the regional policy statement
    • prioritising the health and wellbeing of water bodies, then the essential needs of people, followed by other uses.
  • Improve degraded water bodies, and maintain or improve all others using bottom lines defined in the Freshwater NPS. 
  • An expanded national objectives framework:
    • two additional values - threatened species and mahinga kai - join ecosystem health and human health for recreation, as compulsory values 
    • councils must develop plan objectives that describe the environmental outcome sought for all values (including an objective for each of the five individual components of ecosystem health)  
    • new attributes, aimed specifically at providing for ecosystem health, include fish index of biotic integrity (IBI), sediment, macroinvertebrates (MCI and QMCI), dissolved oxygen, ecosystem metabolism and submerged plants in lakes; councils will have to develop action plans and/or set limits on resource use to achieve these attributes. 
    • tougher national bottom lines for the ammonia and nitrate toxicity attributes to protect 95% of species from toxic effects (up from 80%)
  • Avoid any further loss or degradation of wetlands and streams, map existing wetlands and encourage their restoration.
  • Identify and work towards target outcomes for fish abundance, diversity and passage and address in-stream barriers to fish passage over time.
  • Set an aquatic life objective for fish and address in-stream barriers to fish passage over time.
  • Monitor and report annually on freshwater (including the data used); publish a synthesis report every five years containing a single ecosystem health score and respond to any deterioration.

The above list is not exhaustive.

The Freshwater NPS is one of four pieces of national direction for managing New Zealand’s freshwater. 

Local authorities are also required to give effect to: 

Material incorporated by reference

Certified copies of documents incorporated by reference into the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (Freshwater NPS 2020). The documents, or the specified parts of these documents, have the same legal effect as the Freshwater NPS 2020.

The chief executive of the Ministry for the Environment has certified these copies as correct.

Wetland delineation protocols

The Wetland Delineation Protocols give a robust method for delineating wetlands based on the United States delineation system. The Freshwater NPS 2020 requires regional councils to have regard to this protocol in cases of uncertainty or dispute about the existence or extent of a natural wetland. This protocol uses three criteria for identifying and delineating wetlands: vegetation, soils, and hydrology. The vegetation and soils components have been adapted to New Zealand conditions and the hydrological component is currently under development.

New Zealand threat classification manual

The New Zealand Threat Classification System provides a tool for assigning a threat status to candidate taxa. The classification system has been developed to apply equally to terrestrial, freshwater and marine biota. In the Freshwater NPS 2020, the manual is used in the definition of “threatened species” for indigenous species of flora or fauna that rely on water bodies for at least part of their life-cycle.

River Environment Classification System

The River Environment Classification (REC) System groups rivers and parts of river networks that share similar characteristics, including physical and biological. Rivers that share the same class can be treated as similar to one another and different to rivers in other classes. The REC system groups rivers according to several environmental factors that strongly influence or cause the rivers’ physical and ecological characteristics (climate, topography, geology and land cover). In the Freshwater NPS 2020 it is used in the definition of “specified rivers and lakes” and the sediment attributes’ classification shown in Appendix 2C.

New Zealand river environment classification user guide

This user guide defines the composition of the River Environment Classification’s climate, source-of-flow (topography), and geology values that make up the sediment attributes classification system.

A user guide for the Macroinvertebrate Community Index

This report provides an expert view on best-practice use of the Macroinvertebrate Community Index (MCI) for monitoring and reporting on stream health in New Zealand. It contains advice on appropriate application of the MCI in different stream environments, design of monitoring programmes and data analyses (including trend detection).

Macroinvertebrate metrics for the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management

This report explores the relationship between macroinvertebrate measures (current and new) and ecosystem health, to develop metrics that can be used when making management and restoration decisions about New Zealand streams. Benthic macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects) are a widely used indicator of freshwater ecosystem health as they respond to human pressures, are taxonomically diverse, and easy to sample.

New Zealand fish passage guidelines

This guidance document sets out recommended practice for the design of instream infrastructure to provide for fish passage and to set the foundation for the improvement of fish passage management in New Zealand.

Sediment assessment methods

This report describes methods used to assess deposited sediment including the SAM2 method that is prescribed in Table 14 of Appendix 2B of the Freshwater NPS 2020.

Average score per metric: An alternative metric aggregation method for assessing wadeable stream health

This report describes the method used to calculate the ASPM indicator score that is prescribed in Table 15 of Appendix 2B of the Freshwater NPS 2020.

Guidance on look-up tables for setting nutrient targets for periphyton

The Freshwater NPS 2020 requires councils to manage periphyton in rivers as a compulsory attribute to achieve the value ecosystem health. This guidance is intended to provide a starting point for defining nutrient concentrations for managing to the periphyton attribute, as required by the Freshwater NPS 2020 clause 3.13: Special provision for attributes affected by nutrients. It should be read together with the Freshwater NPS 2020 and other guidance.

A guide to setting instream nutrient concentrations

This technical guidance will help councils with the process set out in Clause 3.13 of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020. This clause requires regional councils to set appropriate instream concentrations and exceedance criteria for dissolved inorganic nitrogen and dissolved reactive phosphorus to achieve outcomes periphyton, other nutrient attributes, other nutrient affected attributes and for sensitive downstream environments. Clause 3.13 provides a step-by-step process for councils to follow. The technical guidance explains each of the steps in the process and includes worked examples and case studies.

How we develop guidance and how you can provide feedback

Most of our guidance has been targeted towards regional councils, although it’s available to everyone. We’ve started looking at how we can provide guidance and support for some of the other groups involved in, and affected by, freshwater planning such as iwi and hapū, the primary sector, district and city councils, and members of communities.

We develop our guidance with assistance from technical experts. We then release the guidance as a draft and invite comment/clarification from users.

The guidance is finalised six months following its release after incorporating initial feedback from users. However as all the Freshwater NPS guides are living documents we welcome comment or clarification suggestions on them at any time.

If you would like to provide feedback on a guide or any other freshwater matter, email us at