Purpose of water conservation orders and how to apply

This page explains the purpose of water conservation orders, the application process and the implications of water conservation orders for regional council decision-making.

Purpose of water conservation orders

The purpose of water conservation orders is to provide recognition of the outstanding amenity or intrinsic values of water bodies.

How they can be used

Water conservation orders may be applied over rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, wetlands or aquifers and over freshwater or geothermal water. A water conservation order may provide for any of the following:

  • the preservation as far as possible of the water body’s natural state
  • the protection of characteristics which the water body has or contributes to:
    • as a habitat for terrestrial or aquatic organisms
    • as a fishery
    • for its wild, scenic, or other natural characteristics:
    • for scientific and ecological values:
    • for recreational, historical, spiritual, or cultural purposes:
  • the protection of characteristics which any water body has or contributes to, and which are considered to be of outstanding significance in accordance with tikanga Māori.

How to apply

Any person may apply to the Minister for the Environment for a water conservation order. Applications must set out the reasons for the application. 

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. 

Application assessment process

  • 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 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 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 the Environment Court receives one or more submissions, 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 makes the order — by order in council.

Implications of water conservation orders for regional councils

A water conservation order can prohibit or restrict a regional council issuing new water and discharge permits, although it cannot affect existing permits. Regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans cannot be inconsistent with the provisions of a water conservation order.