Roles and responsibilities for fresh water

This page lists government agencies with responsibilities for freshwater management and outlines their roles.

Key legislation

The Resource Management Act 1991 [New Zealand Legislation website] sets out responsibilities for water management and regulation. 

Responsibilities under the RMA

Local government

Local government is in charge of freshwater planning at a community and regional level.

  • Regional councils are responsible for managing water quality and quantity through their plans. They may permit some activities and require consents for others such as taking water and the discharge of contaminants. 

  • Territorial authorities are responsible for managing land uses and generally provide drinking water, stormwater and sewage services.

Local authorities have plans that permit some activities and require consents for others such as taking water, discharge of contaminants and the use of land.

Check your regional council for plans that cover water management in your area.

Council maps and websites [Local Government New Zealand website]

Central government

Central government develops national policy for managing fresh water. It guides and directs regional councils under the RMA using tools such as:

  • the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 
  • national environmental standards
  • regulations eg, for water metering. 

The Government consulted on proposals for improving freshwater management in March/April 2017. See the Clean Water package 2017 web page for more information.

The package 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, and details of proposals to exclude stock from waterways.  It also launches the $100 million Freshwater Improvement Fund.

Public submissions closed on Friday 28 April 2017.

Ministry for the Environment

Our role involves:

  • providing policy advice to the Minister for the Environment on freshwater management
  • advising and assisting the Minister with responsibilities under the RMA such as applications for water conservation orders and requests for ministerial intervention. (The Minister can refer matters of national significance to a board of inquiry which is managed by the Environmental Protection Authority)
  • working with other central government agencies to support local government’s role under the RMA.

Ministry of Health

​The Ministry of Health administers the legislation for drinking water. Territorial authorities are responsible for managing the supply, storage and distribution.

Drinking-water legislation [Ministry of Health website]

Department of Conservation

The Department of Conservation has a particular role under the RMA managing the coastal marine area through the National Coastal Policy Statement and for managing conservation land. The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management requires a consistent approach to managing coastal and fresh waters.

New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement [Department of Conservation website]

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is an independent officer of Parliament with wide-ranging powers to investigate environmental concerns.

The Commissioner's job is to hold the Government to account for its environmental policies and actions. It has reviewed many water-related matters.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment website