Developing the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014

This page explains the development of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014. It includes a summary of the updates that took effect in 2014. 

Diagram of the NPS-FM 2014 development process

NPS-FM introduced in 2011

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) was introduced by the Government in 2011 as part of the first phase of freshwater reforms. It was updated in 2014.

See Reforming how we manage fresh water for further background information.

2014 updates

The NPS-FM 2011 was amended in 2014 to provide greater direction and support to help regional councils apply the requirements of the NPS-FM in a consistent way across the country.

National framework for setting freshwater objectives

A key feature of the 2014 updates was the inclusion of a framework for setting freshwater objectives with compulsory national bottom lines for human and ecosystem health based on robust science. The NPS-FM 2014 took effect from 1 August 2014.

The stakeholder-led Land and Water Forum first raised the idea of a national framework to help regions set freshwater objectives in their regional plans. The Government explored the idea in its March 2013 paper ‘Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond’ and asked the Ministry for the Environment (the Ministry) to develop a proposal for a national framework and a consistent process for setting freshwater objectives and limits. This would provide robust and widely-agreed scientific information about water quality so regions did not have to duplicate work on the science or argue about it in the Environment Court when setting freshwater objectives in their regional plans.

The Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Primary Industry announced that a national objectives framework would be considered as an amendment to the NPS-FM 2011.

Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond

Proposed amendments to the NPS-FM 2011: A discussion document (November 2013)

Land and Water Forum website

Science advice on the framework

The attributes (eg, total nitrogen, nitrate toxicity, E.coli) that have been included in the NPS-FM were selected on the advice of specialist science panels. These collectively involved more than 60 scientists from leading research institutions, universities, private institutes and regional councils across New Zealand.

The scientists took part in a range of expert panels to consider:

  • the critical attributes of water quality for which objectives need to be set
  • the critical levels for each attribute
  • an appropriate level to set a bottom line before an ecosystem tipping point.

The recommendations from the expert panels were then considered by a Science Review Panel. The Science Review Panel provided advice to officials on attributes that could be included in the NPS-FM in the 2014 amendments and those which would need further development for later inclusion. The Science Review Panel also provided advice on the robustness of the science approaches that were used.

Science panel members [PDF, 49 KB]

Science panel members [DOC, 98 KB]

Water users’ advice

The proposed attributes were considered by the National Objectives Framework Reference Group (a reference group of water users and managers) which provided advice to officials on their workability.

National objectives framework reference group members [PDF, 223 KB]

National objectives framework reference group members [DOC, 40 KB]

Report of the national objectives framework reference group (October 2012) [PDF, 1.1 MB]

Evaluation of the policy options

The Resource Management Act requires that the Ministry undertakes a section 32 evaluation when preparing a national policy statement. These evaluations ensure that the costs, benefits and any environmental, economic, social and cultural effects resulting from the national policy statement are identified and assessed. A series of regional economic studies were undertaken to understand the potential impacts of bottom lines. Information from these reports is included in both the regulatory impacts statement and the Section 32 report.

NPS-FM supporting scientific and economic impact papers

Proposed amendments to the NPS-FM 2011 – Section 32AA evaluation (July 2014)

Wider engagement and consultation

The Ministry also sought input from other government departments and the iwi advisors group. Consultation (November 2013) with the wider public and public submissions (February 2014) also formed part of the policy mix. The NPS-FM was amended in July 2014 and came into effect on 1 August 2014.

NPS-FM 2014: Summary of recommendations and Minister for the Environment's decision (July 2014)

Submissions on the proposed amendments to the NPS-FM 2011

How the final amendments differed from what was consulted on

The Government consulted on proposals to amend the NPS-FM 2011 at the end of 2013. It has made the following key changes in response to points raised in more than 7000 submissions.

  • A statement at the start of the NPS-FM expresses the national significance of fresh water and te mana o te wai (the mana of the water).
  • The human health values for wading and boating have been merged with swimming into one value. The national bottom line remains unchanged at a level that represents low risk for wading and boating. Communities can choose to manage water in rivers and lakes to the higher standard to present a low risk for swimming if they wish.
  • The ground for allowing an exception to meeting the bottom lines for historical activities is deleted because consultation did not identify any situations where this might apply.
  • The amended NPS-FM allows exceptions to national bottom lines where any of the existing infrastructure listed in Appendix 3 of the NPS-FM contributes to freshwater quality that is below the national bottom line. (Appendix 3 is currently empty. Work is underway to identify content.) Councils proposing means to implement the national bottom lines should be mindful that some areas may soon be eligible for an exception, for example where there is existing hydro-electricity generation infrastructure. 
  • A definition for ‘naturally-occurring processes’ is included to clarify that this ground can only be used to set an objective below a national bottom line if that process could have occurred prior to the arrival of humans. The effects of introduced water fowl, gorse or domesticated animals will not trigger eligibility for an exception on this ground.
  • The deadline for regional councils to implement the NPS-FM has been moved forward to 2025. Most regional councils say they will have completed implementation by 2022. The Government has decided they can only take until 2030 if the 2025 deadline would be impracticable or result in lower quality planning.

The benefits of amending the NPS-FM 2011

The amendments will:

  • reduce costly replication of scientific studies by different councils and result in fewer challenges on water quality science during plan development
  • lead to better water quality in degraded rivers and lakes
  • reduce litigation by setting statutory requirements for national bottom lines
  • ensure consistency in describing and measuring freshwater values
  • encourage community engagement in freshwater planning and decisions
  • ensure consistent accounting for all water takes and sources of contaminants so we know how much water is available and how it might be used more efficiently.

The cost to regional economies of the national bottom lines

Analysis of water-quality data nationally shows that few rivers and lakes are below a national bottom line. Case studies in Canterbury, Southland and Waikato show that economic growth can still be achieved with national bottom lines, although future growth opportunities in some areas are likely to be reduced or come with higher costs. The results for the case studies cannot be extrapolated to other regions because land uses, geology and hydrology are unique to their catchments. The size of any impacts will depend on what policies councils choose to adopt and which water bodies they prioritise for action. 

More to come

The Government recognises that there are still gaps in the framework. More work is being done on developing further attributes (eg, sediment, wetlands) We are also looking at how the health of aquatic insects (the Macro-invertebrate Community Index) can be used nationally as a performance measure for the health of our rivers. Updates to the framework will be implemented by amendments to the NPS-FM possibly in 2016 and 2019.

Find out more

Govt announces next stage of freshwater reforms November 2013 [Beehive website]

Govt issues NPS for fresh water management May 2011 [Beehive website]

Cabinet papers and related material

Reviewed:
22/08/14