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Water Conservation Orders

Purpose of Water Conservation Orders

Water Conservation Orders aim to recognise the outstanding amenity or intrinsic values that water provides in either a natural or modified state.

How they can be used

Water Conservation Orders may be applied over rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, wetlands or aquifers. They can cover freshwater or geothermal water. If granted by the Minister, a Water Conservation Order can restrict or prohibit water ‘takes’, discharges and other uses of the water.

Water Conservation Orders can be used to preserve the natural state or protect characteristics such as:

  • the water body's value as a habitat or fishery
  • its wild and scenic nature
  • its value for recreational, historic, spiritual, cultural or scenic purposes.

A water body may also hold particular significance for Māori.

Any person can apply

Any person may apply to the Minister for the Environment for a Water Conservation Order.

The application must include payment of the prescribed fee, which is $1.022.20. Fee requirements are set out in Schedule 2 of the Resource Management (Forms, Fees, and Procedure) Regulations 2003. The $1,000 fee for water conservation order applications prescribed in the regulations increased to $1,022.20 on 1 October 2010 when the GST rate increased from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent.

Application process

Applications to the Minister must set out the reasons for the application. If the Minister accepts the application then he or she must appoint a special tribunal to hear and report on the application. The special tribunal then publicly notifies the application and calls for submissions.

Submissions must be lodged within 20 working days of the public notice unless a later date is set. Any person may make a submission to the special tribunal.

The tribunal then holds a hearing and prepares a report on the application. The report will include either a draft Water Conservation Order or a recommendation that the application be declined. The report is sent to the applicant, the Minister, the relevant local and iwi authorities and every submitter.

Anyone who made a submission has a further right of submission to the Environment Court on the special tribunal's report. The Environment Court must hold an inquiry if it receives one or more submissions.
If there is such an application to the Environment Court, once it has completed its inquiry, the Environment Court makes a report to the Minister recommending that the special tribunal's report be accepted or rejected with or without modifications.

The Minister must make a recommendation to the Governor-General in accordance with the report of the special tribunal or, if the Environment Court has held an inquiry, the report of the Environment Court.
If a Water Conservation Order is recommended, the Governor-General then makes the order — by order in council.

A Water Conservation Order can prohibit or restrict a regional council issuing new water and discharge permits, although it can not affect existing permits. Regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans must be consistent with the provisions of a Water Conservation Order.
An Everyday Guide to the Resource Management Act Series 1.4: National Level Guidance and Processes (provides information on the process)

Current Water Conservation Orders

There are currently 16 Water Conservation Orders (including two amendment orders) covering water bodies which have outstanding amenity or intrinsic values. These are:

Name Reference number


Motu River 1984/20 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Rakaia River 1988/241 [New Zealand Legislation website]
National Water Conservation (Rakaia River) Amendment Order 2013 [New Zealand Gazette website]
Lake Wairarapa 1989/51 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Manganuioteao River 1989/52 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Lake Ellesmere 1990/155 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Ahuriri River 1990/156 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Grey River 1991/132 [New Zealand Legislation website]

Under the RMA

Rangitikei River 1993/15 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Kawarau River

1997/38 [New Zealand Legislation website]

2013/450 (Water Conservation (Kawarau) Amendment Order 2013)
[New Zealand Legislation website]

Mataura River 1997/126 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Buller River 2001/139 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Motueka River 2004/258 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Mohaka River 2004/397 [New Zealand Legislation website]
Rangitata River 2006 [New Zealand Gazette website]
Oreti River 2008


Last updated: 7 October 2014