Essential Freshwater

We have started the process of reviewing the Government’s Essential Freshwater package. Here is our initial summary and advice. 

On 28 May 2020, the Minister for the Environment announced Central Government's national direction for halting the degradation of our rivers, lakes and streams. The Essential Freshwater announcement signalled where changes to the proposed policy package had been made in response to consultation in September 2019.

From 3 September 2020, the revised National Policy Statement (NPS-FM), new National Environmental Standards (NES-FW) for freshwater management, and Resource Management Act s360 regulations for stock exclusion and measurement and reporting of water takes came into effect.

Horizons is currently working through the requirements and implications for monitoring and enforcement. We encourage all landowners to become familiar with what is required. A good starting point for this are the Ministry for the Environment’s policies and regulations factsheets and your industry groups.

We have also prepared some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) in response to questions posed to us by landowners, or some that we anticipate may be asked in relation to the Essential Freshwater package. Please note that these FAQs predominately refer to the amended National Environmental Standards, however will be added to or edited as we progress our understanding and work towards implementation. 

Iwi Pānui


Stock Exclusion Regulations


Intensive Winter Grazing (IWG)


IWG Consenting Requirements Flowchart


What we are doing

We are analysing the new requirements against Horizons’ Regional Policy Statement and Regional Plan, collectively referred to as the One Plan, to determine the relationship between the new National Environmental Standards for Freshwater 2020 (NES-FW) rules, and the One Plan.

We are also meeting with iwi, the primary sector and other stakeholders who have a direct interest in the freshwater reforms.

While the One Plan covers many of the same areas as the new requirements, changes will be required to give effect to the new national direction. A revised Regional Policy Statement and Regional Plan needs to be in place by 2024.

Horizons has a strong understanding of the region’s freshwater resources. This is due, in part, to our comprehensive monitoring, research and science programmes.

We also have well established non-regulatory programmes and have been working with landowners, iwi, and community groups on fencing, riparian planting, effluent management, and biodiversity initiatives for decades. These include our freshwater programme and the sustainable land use initiative (SLUI).

SLUI also includes voluntary Whole Farm Plans. A big part of the Whole Farm Plans success has been Council’s ability to subsidise landowners, enabling on-farm environmental work to be done sooner. This includes identifying key issues such as using fertiliser effectively, which can help bring down nutrient leaching on farms.

The recent Jobs for Nature funding we received will help us to accelerate fencing and planting, and fish passage remediation programmes we already had underway. The $18 million package also includes the construction of a wetland complex near Lake Horowhenua.

National Environmental Standards

New requirements introduced by the Freshwater NES came into effect from 3 September 2020, with the key changes outlined below.

From 3 September 2020:
Interim restrictions on agricultural intensification, for the activities listed below:
  • increases in the area of land used for dairy farming, from any other type of farming, by more than 10 hectares
  • conversion of more than 10ha of forestry to any form of pastoral farming
  • increases in the area of land used for irrigated pasture for dairy farming by more than 10ha
  • increases in the area of land used for dairy support activities above the annual highest amount between 2014/15 and 2018/19.
Rivers and wetland protection and maintenance – resource consent will be required for:
  • structures in rivers that do not comply with permitted activity standards for fish passage, so that desirable fish movement is not prevented
  • reclamation of rivers including most earthworks in wetlands and rivers
  • clearance of vegetation, earthworks, drainage or taking, damming or diverting water from in and around a wetland.
Feedlots – all feedlots that do not comply with permitted activity standards will need to apply for resource consent.

From 1 May 2021:
Intensive winter grazing – all intensive winter grazing that does not comply with permitted activity standards will need to apply for resource consent. This flowchart will help you understand the consenting requirements.
From 1 July 2021:
A national synthetic nitrogen-fertiliser cap has been set for all pastoral farms in New Zealand. Fertiliser applications of more than 190 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare per year will be a non-complying activity and will require resource consent. Dairy farmers must report their fertiliser use to us.

Stock Exclusion Regulations

Dairy and beef cattle, pigs and deer must be excluded from wetlands, lakes and rivers with a bed greater than or equal to one metre wide. Dates for compliance vary according to stock type and terrain.

Minimum setbacks of three metres between stock and the bed of a lake or river will be required, except where permanent fences or riparian planting is already in place to exclude stock.

Where practicable, bridges and culverts must be used to facilitate stock crossing waterways. Where such structures are impracticable, stock may only cross waterways where stock are being actively driven through the water.

View the Stock Exclusion s360 Regulations.

Measurement and reporting of water takes

Current provisions have been strengthened by including the requirement to provide telemetered data to us for takes of five litres per second by specified dates. This adds to existing requirements to meter these flows and provide records.

View the Measurement and Reporting of Water Takes s360 Regulations.

National Policy Statement

Some key changes introduced through the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) include:

  • The Te Mana o te Wai framework has been strengthened with a change to the hierarchy of obligations. The new hierarchy places the health and wellbeing of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems first.
  • Expectations and direction about involving Māori in freshwater decision-making has been strengthened.
  • New compulsory values and attributes have been included.
  • There is now a requirement for regional councils to map, monitor and manage wetlands and obstacles to fish passage.

The One Plan will need to be updated to give effect to these changes. View the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.

Draft Roadmap – NPS-FM Implementation and Associated Plan Change Process 2020 – 2026


Implementation of central government's freshwater reform package


New Freshwater Rules - Timeline


Your feedback and questions

We welcome comment on this initial advice and will note questions you would like answered. Please contact us at or 0508 800 800.

More information

Speak with your industry representatives and visit their websites.