Reforming the way we manage fresh water

This page provides an overview of the Government’s freshwater reform programme.


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

The reforms will create a water management system that allows us to make more transparent and better targeted and informed decisions on fresh water. Businesses and water users will have more certainty so they can plan and invest. All New Zealanders will have a greater say on the water quality they want for their lakes and rivers.

The reforms started in 2009. The Government’s long-term vision for reform is outlined in its March 2013 proposals paper ‘Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond’. Policy work on the reforms is co-led by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Objectives of the reforms

The Government has initiated reform in freshwater management to address:

  • deteriorating water quality in some areas
  • water demand outstripping supply in some areas
  • the need to balance different interests and values in water, as not all values and expectations can be met in all places at all times
  • the interests of iwi/Māori in fresh water
  • the need for more robust information on what we are putting into our water and how much water is available to use.

Timeframe for reforms

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

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

Freshwater reforms 2013 and beyond

In 2013 a number of key initiatives were proposed.

National objectives framework

A national objectives framework has been included in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (NPS-FM 2014). The framework helps councils set freshwater objectives in their regional plans that meet community and tāngata whenua values for local water bodies. For more information, see the:

National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014

Collaborative planning

Collaborative planning is a way for communities to work together to set objectives for their water bodies. It can mean wider buy-in for decisions, fewer disputes and less litigation.

Collaborative planning is proposed as an optional alternative to the current system. It may be included in future amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991.

Freshwater accounting

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

The improved accounting system will enable standardised data gathering for setting objectives and limits.

How the reforms began

Land and Water Forum

In 2009, the Government asked the stakeholder-led Land and Water Forum to undertake a collaborative and consensus-based approach to provide solutions for freshwater management issues in New Zealand. The Forum made 157 recommendations contained in three 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).

Treaty of Waitangi [Waitangi Tribunal website]

First initiatives

In May 2011, the Government announced the first significant freshwater reform initiatives. These initiatives arose out of 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.

They were:

National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011 was issued under the Resource Management Act 1991. It recognises freshwater management as a nationally significant issue requiring central government direction. It requires all regional councils to set objectives and limits to manage water quality.

National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011

Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund

The Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund provided $15m over the 2011/12 and 2012/13 financial years for major projects to restore waterways affected by historical pollution.

Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund

Irrigation Acceleration Fund

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.

Irrigation Acceleration Fund [Ministry for Primary Industries website]

Links to other government reforms

The freshwater reforms are strongly linked to the wider resource management and local government reforms.

Resource management reforms

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]

Find out more

Ministers’ media releases

Cabinet papers


Related pages

Other related information

Last updated: 4 July 2014