Background to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014

This page outlines the development of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 up to its release in 2014. It does not include the more recent 2017 amendments.

Diagram of the Freshwater NPS 2014 development process

Freshwater NPS introduced in 2011

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

See Overview of freshwater management reforms for further background information.

2014 updates

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

National framework for setting freshwater objectives

A key feature of the 2014 amendments was the adoption of a framework for setting freshwater objectives for all water bodies. Objectives must, as a minimum, be set for two compulsory values: ecosystem health and human health for recreation. National bottom lines, based on robust science, have been adopted for the compulsory values. Objectives must be set above the national bottom lines.

The stakeholder-led Land and Water Forum first raised the idea of a national framework to help councils 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 councils 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 Freshwater NPS 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) and their associated national bottom lines that have been included in the Freshwater NPS were selected on the advice of specialist science panels. These panels 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 Freshwater NPS 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 Freshwater NPS 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 Freshwater NPS 2011 at the end of 2013. It made the following key changes in response to points raised in more than 7000 submissions.

  • A statement at the start of the Freshwater NPS 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 grounds 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 Freshwater NPS allows exceptions to national bottom lines where any of the existing infrastructure listed in Appendix 3 of the Freshwater NPS contributes to freshwater quality that is below the national bottom line. (Appendix 3 is currently empty.)
  • A definition for ‘naturally-occurring processes’ is included to clarify that these processes are only those that could have occurred prior to the arrival of humans. The effects of introduced water fowl, gorse or domesticated animals will not be grounds for setting an objective below a national bottom line.
  • The deadline for regional councils to implement the Freshwater NPS 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 Freshwater NPS 2011

The 2014 amendments:

  • 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
  • provide consistency in describing and measuring freshwater values
  • encourage community engagement in freshwater planning and decisions
  • require consistent accounting for all water takes and sources of contaminants so we know how much water is available and where contaminants in water bodies originate.

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 for ecosystem health in rivers).

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