Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond

This page provides an overview of the reform programme for freshwater management proposed by the Government in 2013. The reforms are co-led by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Planned reforms

The Government is proposing wide-ranging, staggered and long-term improvements to how fresh water is managed in New Zealand.

Once completed, it would be the most significant reform of our freshwater management system in a generation. The reforms would create a water management system that allows us to make more transparent, better targeted and informed decisions on fresh water. Businesses and water users would have more certainty so they can plan and invest.

The Government’s long-term vision for reform is outlined in its March 2013 proposals paper ‘Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond’.

Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond

Timeframe for reforms

The full package of reforms is to be rolled out over the next few years as decisions are made and policy is developed.

The reforms would be introduced in steps and within realistic timeframes so businesses have time to adjust without undue hardship.

First reforms

The following proposals will be addressed as amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991 and associated regulations. If agreed upon, it is likely that they will be introduced in late 2013.

Collaborative planning

A collaborative planning option supports communities to set objectives for their water bodies by working together. It enables wider buy-in for decisions, fewer disputes and less litigation.

It would be an alternative to the current system under the Resource Management Act 1991.

Regulated national objectives framework

A regulated national objectives framework supports regions to set freshwater objectives and limits. The framework would:

  • include a set of values that a water body can be managed for, with associated minimum states (eg, minimum states for bacterial contamination when a river is managed for swimming)
  • require that all water bodies meet the minimum state for ecosystem health and human health (for secondary contact), effectively establishing some national bottom lines.

Ministers have indicated that they intend to consult on the detail of the framework before making final decisions on what it contains.  

A panel of more than 60 freshwater scientists are contributing their expertise to populating the framework.

Participants in scientific engagement process [PDF 49 KB]

Freshwater accounting system

A freshwater accounting system would require councils to account for all water in a region that is used. This includes how much is taken and what is discharged into it.

The accounting system would enable standardised data gathering for more robust environmental reporting and decision-making.

Links to other government reforms

There are strong links between the reform proposals and wider resource management and local government reforms. This is particularly around national priorities, and planning and consenting improvements.

Resource management reforms

Find out more

Last updated: 26 November 2013