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Essential Freshwater

The Government has brought in new rules and policy that aim to restore and protect the health of New Zealand waterways, which have implications for landowners and how we manage freshwater.

What’s in the Essential Freshwater package?

The Government’s goal is to reverse past damage and restore freshwater to a healthy state within a generation. Its Essential Freshwater package includes:

  • A new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater – a set of rules that apply across Aotearoa designed to halt the decline in freshwater values with a focus on ‘high-risk’ farming activities and protecting wetlands.
  • New Livestock Exclusion Regulations – a set of rules that apply nationally and require certain livestock be kept out of certain rivers, lakes and wetlands within set dates – a 3m setback is required for rivers[1] and streams over 1m wide and lakes.
  • Freshwater Farm Plans – these will be required for agricultural, arable and horticulture farms over a certain size. They’re intended to identify impacts of the farm activity on freshwater and controls to address those effects. The details are still being confirmed but it is likely we’ll know more by mid-2021.
  • A new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management – this directs how regional councils are to manage freshwater, including what they are to manage, the process to be used and a deadline to make changes to regional plans by the end of 2024.

What's new

A recent High Court decision found that the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-F) wetland provisions apply in the Coastal Marine Area (CMA). This means that activities within a 100m setback from the CMA may require consents where they previously were permitted, other activities that might previously have needed consents may also have changed status (e.g. changed from controlled or restricted discretionary activities to discretionary or non-complying activities). The NES-F provisions override any regional plan rules which are less stringent than the NES-F. Because there is no nationally agreed definition of what a wetland in the CMA is currently and because the decision had immediate effect (as of 18 November 2021), this High Court decision has wide-ranging implications and we encourage landowners to check with council to make sure that any activity being undertaken or planned within 100m of the CMA is permitted or whether a consent is required. This includes land disturbance, discharges of stormwater runoff and vegetation clearance activities.

Where can I find out more?

To help break down what the changes will mean here in Northland, we’ve developed some summary information on:

- New national rules for farming and for activities near wetlands
- Freshwater Farm Plans
- Changes to our regional plan

There’s also lots more information about Essential Freshwater on the Ministry for the Environment website mfe.govt.nz

We’re here to help

We know there are lots of changes to take in and understand, and we’re here to help.

If you would like more information about the new rules and how they might affect you please call 0800 002 004 and ask to speak to our consents or land management staff.


[1] river means a continually or intermittently flowing body of fresh water; and includes a stream and modified watercourse but does not include any artificial watercourse (such as an irrigation canal, water supply race, canal for the supply of water for electricity power generation, and farm drainage canal).

If you're planning changes that may affect freshwater or waterways then check what rules apply.
Under new government rules, farms will need a Freshwater Farm Plan.
New government requirements for managing freshwater will mean changes for freshwater rules and policy in Northland.