Government freshwater work programme

What we are doing to restore and protect the health of our waterways.

Why we need to restore and protect our waterways

Our freshwater and the life it supports are under threat, particularly in urban and intensively farmed areas.

Read the latest national environmental report on the state of our freshwater

What we aim to achieve

  • Stop further degradation of our freshwater.
  • Start making immediate improvements so water quality improves within five years.
  • Reverse past damage to bring our waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation. 

Read the Essential Freshwater overview factsheet for more information on the workprogramme.

Action we are taking

The initiatives are part of the Essential Freshwater work programme.

Te Mana o Te Wai

We are putting Te Mana o Te Wai – the life-supporting capacity of freshwater – at the centre of our decision-making.

We have updated the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management so that it:

  • sets Te Mana o Te Wai as the fundamental concept
  • provides regional councils with direction on how they should manage freshwater under the RMA 1991.

Read the Te Mana o te Wai factsheet

Find out how we are giving effect to Te Mana o te Wai

Speeding up council planning processes

A new streamlined freshwater planning process was introduced in 2020 as part of several amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

It must be followed by regional councils and unitary authorities when preparing, changing, or varying regional policy statements and regional plans (freshwater instruments) that give effect to any national policy statement for freshwater management, or otherwise relate to freshwater. This includes giving effect to Te Mana O Te Wai, as required under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.

Regional councils and unitary authorities are required to have amended freshwater policy statements and plans notified by the end of 2024, and operational by 2026.

A new freshwater planning process factsheet

A new freshwater planning process: technical guidance for councils

New rules to protect wetlands and streams 

We amended the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 and National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 to:

  • introduce new rules to protect wetlands and streams
  • improve farming practices.

Read the factsheet on wetlands

Find out about proposed amendments to natural wetland provisions (consultation was held in 2021)

Have your say on managing our wetlands in the coastal marine area (consultation closes on 21 September 2022). This consultation relates to the application of the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 to natural wetlands in the coastal marine area.

Find out more about the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020

Find out more about the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020

Improving farming practices

Freshwater farm plans

Through regulations we are requiring farms that meet certain criteria to have a freshwater farm plan. Freshwater farm plans will identify practical actions on farm that help improve your local waterways. This will provide a more flexible and practical way to identify and deal with on-farm environmental risks. 

Find out more about freshwater farm plans

We sought feedback on implementation of the freshwater farm plan system

Regulations to exclude stock from waterbodies

We have introduced regulations to exclude stock from waterbodies (dairy and beef cattle, pigs and deer).

Find out more about the regulations

Find out about proposed changes to the low slope map incorporated in the regulations

Proposed changes to intensive winter grazing regulations

We are also proposing changes to the intensive winter grazing regulations.

Find out about the proposed changes to the intensive winter grazing regulations

Improving freshwater at a catchment level

Almost every catchment in New Zealand is at risk from human activity in one way or another. 

The at-risk catchments project aims to deliver:

  • national level information to enable targeting of regulation, investment and potentially other interventions as envisaged by the Land and Water Forum
  • ‘exemplar’ catchments where we model ways of collaborating with the Department of Conservation, Ministry of Primary Industries, regional councils, iwi/hapū and communities to improve freshwater health. These exemplars will also provide us with information about gaps that could be filled by either regulatory or non-regulatory interventions. 

Changes to water measuring regulations

We have made changes to water measuring regulations so that waters users have to provide electronic use records to councils.

Find out more about the regulations