Reforming how we manage fresh water - an overview

This page provides an overview of the Government's freshwater reform programme and background information.

About the reforms

In 2009, the Government began wide-ranging long-term improvements to how fresh water is managed in New Zealand.

The Government’s long-term vision for fresh water 

  • Our lakes, rivers, wetlands and aquifers are suitable for the local and national values and aspirations of all New Zealanders, including tāngata whenua
  • Fresh water is used efficiently and productively
  • Freshwater quality is maintained or improved
  • Te Mana o te Wai is respected and provided for with healthy freshwater resources supporting our long-term well-being and prosperity
  • Our freshwater bodies are healthy places for aquatic plants and animals
  • Our use of fresh water respects iwi/hapū values and honours the Treaty of Waitangi (Te Tiriti o Waitangi)
  • Outstanding lakes, rivers and wetlands are protected
  • New Zealanders take responsibility for their impact on fresh water and our environment. 

Policy work on the reforms is co-led by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Key events

  • In 2009 the Land and Water Forum was established to advise government on freshwater reform
  • Resource Management (Measurement and Reporting of Water Takes) Regulations 2010
  • In 2011 the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) was gazetted, introducing limits for water quantity and quality 
  • In 2014 NPS-FM amendments introduced the National Objectives Framework and national bottom lines for water quality
  • In early 2016 the Government consulted on the next phase of proposed reforms. For more information about the proposed reforms and the consultation see Freshwater reforms 2016.

History of the reforms

Land and Water Forum 

In 2009, the Government asked the stakeholder-led Land and Water Forum to take a collaborative and consensus-based approach to provide solutions for freshwater management issues in New Zealand. The forum has produced four reports.

Land and Water Forum reports [Land and Water Forum website]

Government Response to the Land and Water Forum Report [DOC, 42 KB]

Engagement with iwi/Māori

Water is a taonga of paramount importance to iwi/Māori. Their rights and interests in water are protected by the Treaty of Waitangi. Engagement with iwi/Māori on water management is part of the Treaty principle of partnership.

The Government engaged with iwi/Māori on its freshwater reforms through:

  • ongoing discussions with the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group and the Land and Water Forum
  • policy development by Crown officials in collaboration with the Iwi Advisors Group (a group that advises the Iwi Leaders Group).

Key initiatives

In May 2011, the Government announced the first significant freshwater reform initiatives. These initiatives (see below) came from the New Start for Fresh Water Strategy and the Fresh Start for Fresh Water Programme. They recognise the strategic value of fresh water to New Zealand’s economy and way of life.

National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011 The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011 was issued under the Resource Management Act 1991. It recognised freshwater management as a nationally significant issue requiring central government direction. It required all regional councils to set objectives and limits to manage water quality.  
Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund

The Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund allocated $14.5 million from 2011 to 2014 to seven projects to restore waterways affected by historical pollution. 


The funded projects were: 


Irrigation Acceleration Fund [Ministry for Primary Industries website]

The Irrigation Acceleration Fund provides $35m over five years to develop more effective and efficient water infrastructure such as storage and distribution lines. It is managed by the Ministry for Primary Industries.


National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (NPS-FM 2014) includes the National Objectives Framework to help councils set freshwater objectives in their regional plans which meet community and tāngata whenua values for local water bodies. 


The NPS-FM 2014 also requires councils to account for how much water is taken from a water body and any contaminants that are discharged into it.


For more information see About the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management



A better way of managing our water

A short video outlining the way the system might work (English) [You Tube video, 3 mins]


A short video outlining the way the system might work (Te Reo) [You Tube video, 3 mins]

Links to other government reforms

The freshwater reforms are strongly linked to wider resource management reforms.

Find out more about these in the RMA reforms and amendments section of this website.

Find out more

Ministers’ media releases - Beehive website

Clear, robust national standards for water quality July 2014 

Government finalises first stage of freshwater policy July 2013

Ministers welcome final fresh water report November 2012 

Government welcomes new fresh water report May 2012 

Forum to progress next stage in water reforms September 2011 

Funding available to clean up rivers and lakes September 2011

Fresh start for fresh water May 2011 

Other related information

Cabinet papers and related materials

Land and Water Forum website