The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (NPSFM) provides national direction for the management of freshwater under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).

On 7 August 2017, the Government announced amendments to the NPSFM. The amendments will come into force on 6 September 2017.

The amendments to the NPSFM follow consultation carried out by the Government earlier this year. The changes seek to ensure that freshwater quality improves over time. The key amendments to the NPSFM include:

National swimming targets – the changes to the NPSFM seek to support the national target of making 90% of New Zealand's rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040. During consultation, this aspect of the amendments was the most controversial and well publicised. The national targets are to be included in the NPSFM, giving them legal status. Regional councils must work towards the national targets, by developing regional targets. Regional councils will need to set draft regional targets by 31 March 2018 and final regional targets by 31 December 2018.

  • Monitoring requirements – regional councils will be required to monitor progress towards the achievement of freshwater objectives and the extent to which values are provided for. Methods for responding to that monitoring will be established and the monitoring information made publicly available.
  • Managing nutrients – to achieve freshwater objectives for periphyton in rivers, the amendments require regional councils to specify appropriate instream concentrations and exceedance criteria for (at least) dissolved inorganic nitrogen and dissolved reactive phosphorus to meet specified outcomes.
  • Te Mana o te Wai – the amendments seek to clarify the meaning of Te Mana o te Wai in freshwater management, being the integrated and holistic wellbeing of a freshwater body, incorporating the values of tangata whenua and the wider community. The changes make it explicit that Te Mana o te Wai is to be considered and recognised in the management of freshwater.
  • Economic wellbeing – the changes introduce explicit consideration of the economic wellbeing of communities (including productive economic opportunities), as well as the consideration of environmental, social and cultural wellbeing, in managing freshwater within environmental limits.
  • Maintaining or improving freshwater quality - new provisions clarify requirements for regional councils about maintaining or improving overall water quality.
  • Infrastructure exceptions to national bottom lines - there are minor changes to the NPSFM to clarify how it applies in cases where national bottom lines for water quality are unable to be met because of significant infrastructure (e.g. hydro dams).
  • Coastal lakes and lagoons – there is currently some uncertainty in the management of coastal lakes and lagoons (which are sometimes sea water and sometimes fresh water) under the NPSFM. The amendments seek to clarify the requirements for coastal lakes and lagoons.

Under the NPSFM regional councils are required to notify progressive implementation programmes which outline when the Council intends to implement the NPSFM by. In most cases planning provisions to give effect to the NPSFM must be in place by 2025, or in some situations 2030. The changes to the NPSFM require any progressive implementation programme to be reviewed, revised (if necessary), formally adopted by the regional council by 31 December 2018, and publicly notified.

Further amendments

Further amendments to the NPSFM are anticipated.

The Government is planning consultation in 2018 regarding what significant infrastructure is to be included in Appendix 3 of the NPSFM as an exception to national bottom lines for the purposes of Policy CA3(b).

The Government has also signalled that a top priority is gazetting national regulations for stock exclusion from waterbodies, along with the development of national best management practice for sectors like dairying, horticulture, beef farming, arable farming, hydroelectricity and land development.

Of course, the progress of these further amendments depends on the results of the upcoming general election.

Want to know more?

The changes to the NPSFM will have significant implications, particularly for regional councils in the development of new planning documents (and/or amendments to existing plans) and the consideration of resource consent applications under the RMA. While most of the amendments will directly impact regional councils, there will also be indirect implications for territorial authorities, industry groups, and the general community.

A marked up version of the NPSFM showing the amendments is available online at

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.