Identifying options

The NPS-FM requires councils to establish freshwater objectives, limits and methods. This page provides information about the requirements, what the different terms mean, and the process councils need to follow.

Requirement for freshwater objectives, limits and methods

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (NPS-FM) requires regional councils to set freshwater objectives, and to set limits and methods for achieving them.

Before your community will be able to make final decisions, you’ll need to look at all the options. It’s not necessarily a step-by-step process. People might have different views about what freshwater objectives to aim for, and what kinds of limits and methods might be required to meet them.

Process for setting freshwater objectives

Part CA of the NPS-FM sets out a process called the National Objectives Framework, which your regional council must follow when developing freshwater objectives. Key parts of the process are explained below.

Identify relevant values

Values are the qualities or uses of fresh water that communities want to see recognised in the on-going management of freshwater bodies.

Your regional council will need to determine which values the community holds for the water bodies in each of its freshwater management units. In practice, this is likely to involve input from the community.

It will then need to set freshwater objectives that provide for these values.

Appendix 1 of the NPS-FM contains two compulsory values. They are ‘ecosystem health’ and ‘human health for recreation'. It also contains a list of other national values that regional councils can choose from; your regional council will need to consider if any of these are relevant for the freshwater management unit.

Your regional council should also consider if there are any other values that are relevant to its specific regional or local conditions in addition to the ones included in Appendix 1.

Identify attributes

Attributes are the measurable water quality characteristics that need to be managed to provide for a particular value. For example, safe levels of E. coli (the attribute) must be managed for human health for recreation (the value).

For each value your regional council chooses for a freshwater management unit, it will need to identify all the attributes that need to be managed to provide for that value.

Appendix 2 of the NPS-FM contains a list of attributes that must be used when setting freshwater objectives for the compulsory values of ‘ecosystem health’ and ‘human health for recreation’. 

Your regional council will need to consider if there are any other attributes that need managing, both for the compulsory values and for any other values the community has identified. 

For each attribute in Appendix 2, regional councils need to choose the attribute state they want to aim for. Each attribute state represents a different level of water quality for a particular attribute. The desired attribute state is the basis for formulating a freshwater objective.

Each attribute in Appendix 2 is followed by a table with a range of attribute states. Regional councils must choose one of the attribute states at or above the minimum acceptable state for each attribute.

For more information on the attributes in Appendix 2 and how they can be used see A draft guide to attributes in Appendix 2 of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014.

Formulate freshwater objectives

A freshwater objective is an environmental outcome that is sought for a FMU. It describes the environmental state required to enable the values for the FMU to be achieved.

Freshwater objectives must be set for all values that are relevant to the freshwater management unit (FMU) – that includes the compulsory values, any optional values from Appendix 1, and any other values your council has chosen. The process for setting freshwater objectives is likely to be an iterative rather than a linear process. For instance, the values and attributes that are identified earlier in the process may need to be revisited when the freshwater objectives are being developed.

Freshwater objectives can also be set for other attributes that regional councils consider appropriate and at a variety of scales and levels of detail. They must be numeric wherever practicable, but can also be a description of the environmental outcome that is sought (ie, described as narrative objectives).


A limit is the maximum amount of resource use that enables a freshwater objective is to be met.

Your regional council is required to set limits for both water quality and water quantity to achieve the freshwater objectives it has set for each freshwater management unit.

Water quality and quantity limits are interdependent. For example, a change in the flow of a river (the quantity) would affect the concentration of certain contaminants (the quality).

Management methods

Your council will need to consider appropriate methods for meeting the freshwater objectives and limits it has set, and ensuring they continue to be met in the future.

When your council is choosing methods, it must also give effect to other parts of the NPS-FM such as policies that require your council to:

  • establish methods to avoid over-allocation of water quality (Policy A1)
  • implement methods to meet water quality targets (Policy A2)
  • impose conditions on discharge permits to meet freshwater quality targets (Policy A3 (a))
  • make rules requiring the adoption of the best practicable option to minimise adverse effects from contaminants entering fresh water, where permissible (Policy A3(b))
  • provide for efficient allocation of water in regional plans (Policy B2)
  • establish criteria for deciding on applications for transferring water-take permits (Policy B3)
  • ensure no decision will likely result in future over-allocation of water quantity (Policy B5)
  • establish methods in regional plans for phasing out over-allocation of water quantity. (Policy B4).

Find out more

A guide to the NPS-FM 2014 has further information on:

  • the National Objectives Framework, see Part CA of the guide
  • water quality, see Part A of the guide
  • water quantity, see Part B of the guide.