Laws and regulations governing how fresh water is managed

This page tells you about the laws and regulations that govern how fresh water is managed.

RMA governs how local councils manage water

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) is the main piece of legislation that sets out how we manage our environment.  It covers both water use (how water is taken, used, dammed or diverted) and discharges (how pollutants enter the water). It sets out requirements that local councils need to meet, processes they need to follow, and things they need to consider when making decisions. It also sets out the roles and responsibilities of central government.

Find out more about the RMA

Central government sets direction for local government to follow

The Government is responsible for making regulations that councils and water users have to follow. As well as administering the RMA (including making amendments to it on occasion), the Government provides ‘national direction’ for water through regulations such as national policy statements, national environmental standards and other regulations.

These give councils specific instructions about how to carry out their functions under the RMA to achieve the outcomes the Government considers nationally important (eg, protecting the health of our freshwater ecosystems and the health of people).

Freshwater NPS provides national direction about managing water

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (Freshwater NPS) is the main source of national direction about how councils should carry out their responsibilities for managing fresh water. It directs regional councils to consider specific matters and to meet certain requirements when they are developing regional plans for fresh water.

The Freshwater NPS requires regional councils to identify what is ‘valued’ about a certain water body, in consultation with their communities. They must then set ‘freshwater objectives’ to ensure those values are provided for.

Freshwater objectives could be about what the appropriate level of water quality needs to be to provide for the things people value (eg, being able to gather food safely, swim, or for a river to exist in its natural state). It also requires councils to work out what needs to be managed (eg, contaminants, flow, habitat or land use) to achieve the objectives they’ve set.

Find out more about the Freshwater NPS

For more information on regional councils’ role see Managing fresh water

Other national direction supporting the Freshwater NPS

The Resource Management (Measurement and Reporting of Water Takes) Regulations 2010 require water users taking water at a rate of 5 litres or more to measure and report on how much they’re taking, so we have good information about how much water is being used.

The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement, administered by the Department of Conservation guides local authorities in their management of the coastal environment (which includes some freshwater bodies, is affected by freshwater bodies).

The National Environmental Standard for Plantation Forestry regulates the way that some plantation forestry activities may be carried out.  Conditions and restrictions in the NES manage the environmental effects of these forestry activities,  which can include effects on water quality. The NES is administered by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Rules to make sure people have access to safe drinking water

Both local and central government have a role to play in making sure drinking water is safe.

The National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water sets out the requirements regional councils must follow to protect sources of human drinking water from contamination.

It requires regional councils to ensure that effects of activities on drinking water sources are considered in decisions on resource consents and regional plans.

The Health Act 1956 [New Zealand Legislation website] sets out requirements that need to be followed to protect public health by improving the quality of drinking-water provided to communities.

Reviewed:
09/07/18