The Resource Management Act (RMA) is the foundation of freshwater management in New Zealand. The primary planning ‘tools’ are policies and rules in Regional Plans. Central Government can also make national policy and regulations under the RMA.


Essential Freshwater

Essential Freshwater is part of the  Government’s Action for Healthy Waterways package. It covered a suite of new regulations including a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and National Environmental Standards for Freshwater which came into force on 3 September 2020.

A National Policy Statement sets out objectives and policies that apply nationally.


There has been a National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM) since 2014. This was amended in 2017, and on 3 September 2020, it was replaced by the new NPSFM 2020. The NESFM 2020 must be given effect to by regional councils in regional plans.

 A National Environmental Standard is a set of ‘rules’ which apply nationally – they are like rules in a plan, and are implemented/enforced by Councils. The National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 (NESFW)  is the first NES for water, although there are NES’s for other resource management issues (e.g. renewable electricity generation, transmission lines, air quality, forestry).

 Click here to read HortNZ's summary of the Essential Freshwater requirements

Councils are required to, through their regional plans, give effect to National Policy Statements. The freshwater provisions (objectives, policies and rules) in regional plans are the vehicle for giving effect to the NPSFM. Councils must give effect to the NPSFM ‘as soon as reasonably practicable’ and notify a plan or plan change by December 2024.

More information on the changes in available on the Ministry for the Environment's website here.

National Environmental Standards for Sources of Human Drinking Water

In early 2022, the Government consulted on proposals to amend the National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water (NESDW) - as part of wider three waters reform.

The consultation proposed three new spatially defined ‘source water risk management zones’, and sets out a management approach for each zone to manage potential risks to source water.

Click here to read a summary of HortNZ's submission

Water Services Act

The Water Services Act was passed as legislation in October 2021 (and commenced on 15 November 2021). The new Act provides a new regulatory framework for drinking water - and sets out Taumata Arowai's functions as a regulator and the duties and responsibility of drinking water suppliers.

The Act defines 'drinking water supplier' (and the duties that then apply) more broadly than the previous Health Act framework. 

HortNZ has summarised the new rules to help growers determine whether they are affected by the new rules. As a rule of thumb, If you supply drinking water to more than one household then you are a drinking water supplier under the Water Services Act 2021.

Read the Water Services Act summary here

Government review of Overseer

The Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for the Environment commissioned an independent peer review of Overseer. The Science Advisory Panel report concluded that, in its current form, it would not have confidence that Overseer’s estimates of nitrogen lost from farms are suitable for use as a stand-alone measure of total losses. 

The Government’s Response to the Overseer review notes: 

  • In the immediate term, regional councils will continue to implement their plans and administer consents to manage fresh water at the farm level. Councils will use all available evidence and will need to be careful not to rely solely on Overseer modelling for their understanding of total nitrogen losses.’ 
  • In a compliance monitoring and enforcement context, Councils should use all available tools/data and be cautious in placing too much emphasis on Overseer modelling as a means of exercising control through the imposition of consent conditions. Conditions placed on any new consents should allow for compliance to be demonstrated using ‘multiple lines of evidence.’ 

The Government has committed to ensuring regional councils and resource users have access to reliable and practical tools to effectively manage nutrient discharges through the planning and consenting framework. 

HortNZ's position

HortNZ welcomes the review of Overseer as the review supports HortNZ's long-standing position on Overseer and its limitations. HortNZ supports using other methods such as N-budgets as an alternative to modelled leaching estimates and support allocation frameworks that do not rely on Overseer estimates. 

HortNZ asks that the Government takes decisive action to provide a workable and certain regulatory framework in the transition to the 2024 National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) Plan Changes.