Overview of freshwater management reforms

This page provides information about the Government's freshwater reform programme.

What is happening now

The Government has a comprehensive work programme to improve New Zealand freshwater management.

It includes the following proposals:

  • amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014
  • excluding stock from waterways by regulation.

Find out about these and the new Freshwater Improvement Fund on the Clean Water package 2017 web page.

Read the consultation document on the proposals. Public submissions closed on Friday 28 April 2017.

See the Water quality for swimming categories (attribute states) in detail.

Timeline of reforms and initiatives

About the reform programme

In 2009, the Government began wide-ranging long-term improvements to how fresh water is managed in New Zealand. Policy work on the reforms is co-led by the Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

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. 

Key outcomes

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) replaced the NPS-FM 2011. It 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.

Te Mana o te Wai fund

The Te Mana o te Wai fund allocated $5 million to help Māori improve the water quality of freshwater bodies of importance to them.


See Te Mana o te Wai projects

Freshwater Improvement Fund

The Freshwater Improvement Fund commits $100 million over 10 years to improve the management of New Zealand’s lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater and wetlands. It supports projects, with a total value of $400,000 or more, that help communities manage fresh water within environmental limits.

Background to 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 produced four reports.

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

Government response to the 2011 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).

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

Next steps for freshwater February 2016

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