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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 requirements

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

Regional (and unitary) councils have functions under the RMA of managing freshwater in the following ways:

  • the control of the use of land for the maintenance and enhancement of water quality and ecosystems in waterbodies.
  • the control of the taking, use, damming, and diversion of water, and the control of the quantity, level, and flow of water in any water body.

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.