Frequently asked questions

Ngā patapatai

Answers to frequently asked questions about the Freshwater Plan Change

Why is Northland Regional Council preparing the Freshwater Plan Change?

In 2020 the government introduced ‘Essential Freshwater’ – a package of policies and rules to protect and improve our rivers, streams, lakes, groundwater and wetlands. It includes:

  • new rules for landowners
  • directing council to prepare a plan for improving the state of freshwater in the region.

The Freshwater Plan Change is required to meet council’s obligations under this legislation. Although the new Government following the October 2023 election has signalled its intention to replace national freshwater policy, we don’t yet know what that might look like.

Why is NRC continuing with the Freshwater Plan Change when the government has signalled a change in policy?

The government changed following the October 2023 general election. The new government has set out its intention to replace national freshwater policy, but we don’t yet know what that might look like. What we do know is that we have major challenges with our freshwater quality, we need a plan for improving the health of our wai, and we need input from across the rohe to help shape the future management of water in Te Taitokerau.

What happens next?

We’re currently reviewing the feedback we received during public consultation on the draft Freshwater Plan Change and considering any changes we might need to make.
The next version of the plan will be the proposed Freshwater Plan Change. The proposed plan will reflect public feedback on the draft plan. You’ll be able to make a formal submission on the proposed plan and present your views to an independent Freshwater Hearing Panel.

What will the Freshwater Plan Change cover?

The draft Freshwater Plan will include:

  • A new vision for our freshwater
  • The outcomes we want for freshwater
  • New limits and rules for activities that impact freshwater
  • Actions the regional council will take to help meet the outcomes we want for freshwater.

It details the way Northland Regional Council is responding to the Government's direction to improve the health of our freshwater.

How did council prepare the Freshwater Plan Change?

For more than three years we have been getting feedback and advice from tāngata whenua, government, industry, environmental groups, and our communities on what the Freshwater Plan Change should cover.

Two groups in particular guided its development:

  • Tāngata Whenua Water Advisory Group (TWWAG). This group of tāngata whenua technical experts from Te Taitokerau has a wide range of freshwater kaitiaki expertise and experience. They have provided detailed advice and recommendations for what should be included in the draft Freshwater Plan and what actions council should take to work with haukainga and community level to identify catchment specific provisions.

Read the TWWAG reports

  • Primary Sector Liaison Group (PSLG). Made up of representatives from primary sector industry organisations, this group provided a report outlining the issues facing the primary sector. The group developed a vision for the draft Freshwater Plan Change to help ensure:
    • the importance of the primary sector to Northland’s economy is recognised
    • the industry can thrive, and
    • appropriate land use is provided for.

They also provided advice on objectives and measures to improve freshwater.

Read the PSLG report

We acknowledge all those who have contributed to this draft plan, and we have listened carefully to all the views and recommendations put forward.

What were the other alternatives/options/tools NRC considered to obtain the required freshwater outcomes?

We considered the ‘business as usual’ option – i.e. no changes to the Regional Plan methods including rules. However, this was not considered feasible as it would not achieve the improvement required to meet national bottom lines in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 or to make Northland’s water safe for us to swim in or eat plants/food from.

Relying on Freshwater Farm Plans (FWFP) to minimise the impacts on freshwater in Northland has been discussed, but how effective and consistent these will be in addressing issues is unclear given the FWFP regime is new and we need to have certainty that targets for freshwater improvement will be met.

What is the difference between the Freshwater Plan Change and the ‘Three Waters’ reforms?

The draft Freshwater Plan Change is different to the Three Waters reforms proposed by the previous Government.

Three Waters was about our drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure and services. Following the national election in October 2023, the new Government announced a new direction for addressing water infrastructure challenges called ‘Local Water Done Well’.

The Freshwater Plan Change is about managing the health of our rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands. It is not connected with the Three Waters reforms or Local Water Done Well.

Is fluoride covered in the plan?

No. The Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand control the maximum levels of fluoride in drinking water (i.e. 1.5mg/litre). This is overseen by Taumata Arowai (the water services regulator). Fluoride in drinking water is not regulated or controlled by the regional council.

You can find out more about the role of Taumata Arowai at