National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPSFM 2020) came into force on 3 September 2020. 5223   It replaced the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (amended 2017). 

 The NPSFM 2020 is made up for 4 parts which addressing the following:

  • Part 1 contains preliminary provisions
  • Part 2 contains the NPSFM 2020’s objectives and policies
  • Part 3 is titled implementation and contains direction to regional councils regarding:
    1. How to implement Te Mana o te Wai
    2. A process called the National Objectives Framework process (NOF) which requires regional councils to identify values and outcomes for its freshwater bodies
    3. Requirements relating to wetlands, rivers, deposited sediment, rivers, fish passage, primary contact sites, water allocation, accounting systems, monitoring and reporting, large hydro-electric generation schemes, naturally occurring processes, and specified vegetable growing areas.
  • Part 4 contains timing and transitional provisions

The NPSFM 2020 sets a national framework for how freshwater is to be managed across the country.  Regional and district plans are required to give effect to it according to its terms.  This means that in respect of matters about which the NPSFM 2020 is specific and directive regional and district plans will have less flexibility to choose how the NPSFM 2020 is implemented, and in respect of matters about which the NPSFM 2020 is more general regional and district plans will be able to have more leeway to adjust their approach or content.

Part 1 Preliminary Provisions

Part 1 of the NPSM 2020 includes provisions relating to commencement, the fundamental concept underpinning the NPSFM 2020, definitions, the parts of the environment and plans and processes the NPSFM 2020 applies to, the meaning of “best information available” for the purposes of the NPSFM 2020, and any material incorporated by reference.

The NPSFM 2020’s fundamental concept and its application are addressed in detail below.

Fundamental Concept

Te Mana o te Wai is described as the NPSFM 2020’s “fundamental concept”.  Te Mana o te Wai was included in previous iterations of the national policy statement in narrative form as a part of describing the matter of national significance to which the policy statement applied.  In contrast, the NPSFM includes five clauses that outline the concept and provide a high level framework for its implementation.

Te Mana to te Wai is expressly stated to be relevant to all freshwater management not just aspects captured specifically by the NPSFM 2020 and is defined as:

 a concept that refers to the fundamental importance of water and recognises that protecting the health of freshwater protects the health and well-being of the wider environment. It protects the mauri of the wai. Te Mana o te Wai is about restoring and preserving the balance between the water, the wider environment, and the community.

It encompasses 6 principles:  Mana whakahaere, Kaitiakitanga, manaakitanga, governance, stewardship, care and respect.

It is also characterised by a hierarchy of obligations that prioritises first the health and well-being of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems, followed by the health needs of people, with the ability for people and communities to provide for social, economic and cultural well-being over and above these things being third priority.

This hierarchy needs to be kept front and centre of mind when interpreting and implementing the NPSFM 2020.  It means that every direction in the NPSFM 2020 relates to Te Mana o te Wai and that the decision-making in exercising the NPSFM direction must put the health and well-being of the water body and its ecosystems first.


The NPSFM 2020 applies to all freshwater (including groundwater) and, to the extent they are affected by freshwater, to receiving environments such as estuaries and the coastal marine area.

Generally, changes to regional policy statements and regional plans required by the NPSFM 2020 are to be made by regional councils as soon as reasonably practicable 5224 but a plan change giving effect to the NPSFM 2020 must be notified no later than 31 December 2024 under s 80A(4)(b) RMA using the freshwater planning process which provides for public input.  However, there are four exceptions where the changes required need to be made without following the freshwater planning process.  These are: 

  • A policy relating to avoiding the loss of extent of natural inland wetlands, protecting their values, and promoting their restoration (see below for more detail).
  • A policy relating to avoiding the loss of river extent and values (see below for more detail).
  • A policy relating to maintaining or improving fish passage (see below for more  detail).
  • Changes made to existing documents to update wording or terminology to align with that used in the NPSFM 2020 where this can be considered the correction of a minor error.  It is reasonable to expect that regional councils will be cautious when making corrections of this nature given the specificity of the definitions in the NPSFM 2020 and differences between them and terms used in earlier iterations of the national policy statement.


Part 2 Objectives and policies

The NPSFM2020 has only one objective, which mirrors the hierarchy of obligations that characterise Te Mana o te Wai.  That objective is to:

 ensure that natural and physical resources are managed in a way that prioritises:

(a) first, the health and well-being of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems

(b) second, the health needs of people (such as drinking water)

(c) third, the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being, now and in the future.

The consequence of this objective is that the primary goal of regional and district plans is to ensure that the plan framework prioritises the health and well-being of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems over and above any other use of or demand on freshwater.

There are 14 Policies which specify the high-level courses of action for achieving this objective.  In summary, these are: 

  • Freshwater is managed in a way that gives effect to Te Mana o te Wai. 
  • Māori freshwater values are identified and provided for. 
  • Tangata whenua are actively involved in freshwater management. 
  • Freshwater is managed on an integrated, whole-of-catchment basis, and so as to integrate with New Zealand’s response to climate change. 
  • Freshwater is managed through a National Objectives Framework (NOF) to ensure that the health and well-being of:
  1. Degraded water bodies and freshwater ecosystems is improved.  Whether a waterbody or ecosystem is degraded is determined by whether it meets the scientific requirements needed to qualify as healthy, identified through the NOF process. 5225 This is discussed below.
  2.  Other water bodies and freshwater ecosystems is maintained and improved if communities choose to improve it.  
  • There is no further loss of extent of natural inland wetlands, 5226  their values are protected, and their restoration promoted. 
  • The loss of river extent and values is avoided to the extent practicable.  The use of the word practicable means that the requirement to avoid loss of extent and loss of values is not absolute.  It requires something narrower than physically possible and is to be assessed based on a value judgement made at the time. 5227
  • The significant values of outstanding water bodies and the habitats of indigenous freshwater species are protected.  The habitat of trout and salmon is protected in so far it is consistent with protecting indigenous species habitat. 
  • Freshwater is allocated and used efficiently, all existing over-allocation is phased out, and future over allocation is avoided.  Freshwater quantity and quality is over-allocated where freshwater use exceeds a limit, for example, if the amount of water that is currently being taken from a river or is sought to be taken exceeds the amount that has been identified as being able to be taken while ensuring the health of the waterbody.  Until limits are set for a waterbody, it is considered to be over-allocated if it is in a degraded or a degrading state. 5228  
  • The national target for 80% of specified lakes and rivers to be suitable for primary contact creation (such as swimming) by 2030 and 90% by 2040, is achieved. 5229  
  • The condition of waterbodies and freshwater ecosystems is systematically monitored over time and action is taken where it is degraded to reverse this. 
  • There is regular reporting on the state of New Zealand’s freshwater environment. 
  • Communities are enabled to provide for their social, economic, and cultural wellbeing in a way that is consistent with the detail of the NPSFM2020. 

The detail for how these courses of action are to be carried out, is then provided in Part 3 of the NPSFM 2020.  Generally, the policies are framed so as to state specific outcomes for different aspects of the freshwater environment.  This means that regional and district plans need to be designed so that they will ensure freshwater is managed in such a way that these outcomes will be achieved.  In some situations, this will be able to be done through controls on the way in which that part of the freshwater environment is used, and in others it will mean that a proposed use cannot occur. 

Part 3 Implementation

Approaches to implementing the NPSFM 2020

The first part of Part 3 sets out 4 high level directions for how the NPSFM 2020 is to be implemented.   These either generally or specifically inform the specific processes or requirements included later.

 To begin, subpart 3.2 places Te Mana o te Wai and its hierarchy of obligations (of which the first is the health of freshwater itself) at the forefront of the processes and directions provided for in the NPSFM 2020. Regional council’s must apply that hierarchy and include an objective stating how Te Mana o te Wai is to be given effect to in their regional policy statement.  It also identifies engagement as a key aspect of giving effect to Te Mana o te Wai. Regional councils will need to engage with communities to determine how to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai and actively involve tangata whenua in freshwater management.  Finally, it provides direction regarding implementation in a technical sense with regional council’s being asked with enabling the application of a diversity of knowledge systems. 

Detailed direction is then provided in respect of 2 aspects of the content of regional policy statements and regional and district plans, and 2 aspects of engagement.

 In terms of content: 

  • Regional councils must develop long-term visions for freshwater and include those as objectives in their regional policy statement.  This means those visions will then need to be given effect to by regional and district plans.  Long term visions can be set at catchment, freshwater management unit, or sub-freshwater management unit level, goals must be difficult but not impossible to achieve and identify timeframes for their achievement. They must also apply the Te Mana o te Wai hierarchy obligations set out in clause 1.3(5), the first being the health of waterbodies themselves.  Long term visions must be developed with communities and tangata whenua and informed by the state of the environment and pressures on it. 
  • local authorities must adopt an integrated approach – ki uta ki tai (recognising the connections from the mountains to the sea).  As part of doing this regional council’s must amended regional policy statements to the extent needed to provide for this, and territorial authorities must include provisions in district plans to control effects of urban development. 

In terms of engagement: 

  • Local authorities must actively involve tangata whenua in freshwater management and in respect of the processes required to be undertaken by the NPSFM2020. There is a particular requirement to work collaboratively to identify and be involved in decision-making on Māori freshwater values.  Regional councils must also work with tangata whenua to investigate the use of co-governance and co-management opportunities available under the RMA. 
  • Regional councils are subject to specific direction to ensure transparent decision-making when investigating mechanisms for Māori co-governance and co-management, and when preparing action plans under clause 3.15 of the NPSFM 2020. 

National Objectives Framework

The NOF sets out the process for preparing regional freshwater plan content and at a high-level the required management approach and content.  The balance of the NPSFM 2020 provides detailed direction on management of specific parts of the freshwater environment and so too will inform the content ultimately included in each regional freshwater plan.

At each stage of the NOF process, regional councils must engage with communities and tangata whenua and apply the hierarchy of obligations, the first being the health of freshwater.   The NOF process comprises 8 sets which are discussed below.

Step 1: Identify freshwater management units (FMU) in the region

An FMU means means all or any part of a water body or water bodies, and their related catchments that regional council determines is appropriate for freshwater management.  Part of an FMU is simply part of an identified FMU.

Every waterbody in a region must be in at least one FMU.  Within each FMU regional councils must also identify monitoring sites, primary contact sites, habitats of threatened species, outstanding water bodies, and natural inland wetlands.

Step 2: Identify values for each FMU

Regional councils must then identify the values of each FMU.  Identified values must include the 4 compulsory values identified in the NPSFM 2020:

Ecosystem health which is made up of 5 components: water quality, water quantity, habitat, aquatic life, ecological processes.

  • Human contact.
  • Threatened species.
  • Mahinga kai.

Other values can also be identified for a FMU.  When going about the process of identifying other values, regional councils must consider if any of the following 9 values apply:

  • Natural form and character
  • Drinking water
  • Wai tapu
  • Transport and Tauranga waka
  • Fishing
  • Hydro-electric power generation
  • Animal drinking water
  • Irrigation, cultivation, and food and beverage production
  • Commercial and industrial use

Step 3: Set environmental outcomes for each value and include these as objectives in the regional plan

 An environmental outcome means a desired outcome for each value.  Environmental outcomes must be expressed as an objective in the plan and must be framed in a way that enables assessment of the effectiveness of method adopted to achieve it, and must when achieved, fulfill the longer term visions included as objectives in the regional policy statement. The environmental outcome for ‘Ecosystem Health’ also has to address each of the 5 biophysical components as set out in Appendix 1.

Step 4: Identify attributes for each value for each FMU and set baseline states for those attributes

An attribute is a measurable characteristic that can be used to assess the extent to which a particular value is provide for. It can be numeric, such as a specific amount of nutrient, or it can be narrative, for example it could describe how a waterbody needs to look for a value to be met. 5230 Attributes should be numeric where possible.

The NPSFM2020 includes compulsory attributes for the ecosystem health and human contact compulsory values. 5231   This means that these attributes must be monitored throughout the region as those values apply everywhere.  The ecosystem health attributes include: 

  • For lakes and rivers: chlorophyll-a, ammoniacal-nitrogen, E. coli
  • For lakes: total nitrogen, total phosphorous, submerged plants (both indigenous and invasive), dissolved-oxygen,
  • For rivers: nitrate nitrogen, dissolved oxygen, visual clarity using a suspended sediment class framework, dissolved reactive phosphorus, and fish integrity, macroinvertebrates, deposited fine sediment (for wadeable rivers),

For human contact they include cyanobacteria and E. coli.

Regional councils may also identify other attributes for any compulsory values 5232  and must identify attributes for all other values of each FMU where practicable.  If an attribute cannot be identified or are insufficient to assess a value, then the regional council must identify other criteria for assessing whether the environmental outcome of the value is being met.

For each attribute, the regional council must identify the baseline state, which is defined in cl 1.4 by the NPSFM 2020 to be the best state out of the following: 

  • The state on the date the attribute is first identified by the regional council
  • The state on the date on which the council set a freshwater objective of the same attribute under the 2014 (amended in 2017) version of the national policy statement.
  • The state on 7 September 2017. 

Step 5: Set target attribute states, environmental flows and levels, and other criteria to support the achievement of environmental outcomes

A target attribute state must be identified for each attribute.  The purpose of the target attribute state is to achieve the environmental outcome sought for each value of each FMU included as objectives in the regional plan and the relevant long-term vision included as objectives in the regional policy statement. 

The NPSFM 2020 includes specific direction on how the target attribute state is to be selected, over and above ensuring it achieves the environmental outcome to which it relates. 

First, it must be set at or above the baseline state (with 1 exception applying to human contact).  Second, if attribute is one of those identified in the NPSFM 2020, and the baseline state is below the national bottom line for that attribute as set in the NPSFM 2020, the target state must be at or above the bottom line.  There are exceptions to this requirement for 5 specifically identified hydro-electric generation schemes, 2 specified vegetable growing areas, and if all or part of the water body is affected by naturally occurring processes that are the cause of the waterbody being below the national bottom line. 5233   In those situations, a target attribute state must still be an improvement but can be below the national bottom line.

A timeframe for achieving each target attribute state must be identified, or if a target attribute state has been achieved the date from which it will be maintained must be identified.  Long term timeframes must be accompanied by interim target attribute states set for intervals of not more than 10 years. 

Where the same attribute provides for more than one of an FMUs values, it is the most stringent target attribute state that must be met.

Regional councils are also required to include rules in plans that set environmental flows and levels for each FMU or each part of an FMU.  Like the target attribute states, these must also be set at a level that achieves the environmental outcomes for the values of the FMU and the relevant long-term visions, (included as objectives in the regional plan and regional policy statement respectively).  This is a crucial step in giving effect to the first priority of Te Mana o te Wai as it sets out the needs of the river.

Step 6: Set limits (either a limit on resource use or a take limit) as rules and prepare action plans (as appropriate) to achieve environmental outcomes

What regional councils are required to do to achieve target attribute states depends on the attribute.  For some of the compulsory attributes regional councils must identify the maximum amount of resource use that is permissible while still achieving the relevant target attribute state 5234  and include that as a limit on resource use in the regional plan and may prepare an action plan or impose relevant resource consent conditions.  For other compulsory attributes regional councils must prepare an action plan and may identify limits on resource use and impose conditions of consent.  For non-compulsory value target attribute states regional councils must do at least one of these things, but the council can choose which or whether a mix of methods are used. 

Limits can apply to any activity or land use, at any scale, describe when they apply, and/or be expressed as a land use control, an input control, or an output control. 

An action plan can be prepared for all or part of an FMU or for multiple FMUs and is intended to set out a staged approach to achieving the relevant target attribute states and the environmental outcomes (i.e plan objectives) to which they relate.

Additional direction applies to attributes affected by nutrients.  In respect of these attributes, at a minimum, regional councils must set instream concentration and exceedance criteria for dissolved inorganic nitrogen and dissolved reactive phosphorus.  A specific process is provided for how these are to be identified.

Regional councils must also include limits on water takes (take limits) in order to meet environmental flows and levels.  Take limits must also meet the needs of the relevant water body, those connected to it and their associated ecosystems, safeguard ecosystem health, and provide for the life cycle needs of aquatic life. Take limits must be included as rules in the regional plan and must be expressed as a total volume, a total rate, or both at which water may be taken, diverted, or dammed.  The regional plan must also state when existing water permits will be reviewed in order to comply with those limits.

Step 7: Monitor waterbodies and ecosystems

Every regional council must establish methods for monitoring progress towards achieving target attributes states and environmental outcomes.  Methods must include measures of mātauranga Māori and indigenous flora and fauna health and must recognise the importance of long-term trends.

Step 8: Take action if degradation is detected

If a regional council detects that an FMU or part of an FMU is degraded or degrading, it must, as soon as practicable, take action to identify the cause, and to halt or reverse the degradation (for example, by making or changing a regional plan, or preparing an action plan).

Specific requirements

On top of the NOF process, the NPSFM 2020 includes further direction in relation to identification and management of specific parts of the freshwater environment and in respect of two activities –  identified large hydro-schemes, and identified growing areas.

A key aspect of that further direction is the effects management hierarchy that is provided for natural inland wetlands and rivers.  This sets out how effects of activities on these areas and their extent and values must be managed.  It requires that:

First, adverse effects are avoided, where practicable.

  • Second, where adverse effects cannot be avoided, they are minimised where practicable.
  • Third, where adverse effects cannot be minimised, they are remedied where practicable.
  • Fourth, where more than minor residual adverse effects cannot be avoided, minimised, or remedied, aquatic offsetting is provided where possible. Aquatic offsetting refers to a conservation outcome from actions taken to address residual effects that achieve a no net loss or preferably a net gain in extent or values over space and time.  Importantly, decision-makers only need to take into account the type of wetland protected, there is no requirement that the offset proposal must apply to the same type of wetland (which is a feature of typical biodiversity offsets through the like-for-like criterion).
  • Fifth, if aquatic offsetting is not possible aquatic compensation is provided. Aquatic compensation is a conservation outcome designed to compensate for residual adverse effects.
  • Finally, if aquatic compensation is not appropriate, the activity is itself avoided. 

 A number of observations can be made about this hierarchy: 

  • It does not include a ‘hard’ direction requiring all adverse effects or a specifically identified group (e.g. fragmentation) or magnitude (e.g. significant) of adverse effects to be avoided or not allowed.  This can be contrasted with direction that applies in the coastal environment such as the requirement to avoid adverse effects of certain habitats.
  • The term “practicable” is not defined in the NPSFM 2020, and although it is subject to some direction about how it should be interpreted from the Courts that direction is that its interpretation depends on the specific case at hand.  This means that there is potential for different people or groups to have different views on whether it is practicable to avoid, minimise, or remedy, or not.
  • The definition of aquatic offsetting does not include all international best practice criterion applied to the broader concept of ‘biodiversity offsetting’. 
  • Providing opportunity for aquatic compensation means that applicants will be able to offer what is considered to be an environmental benefit that may not relate at all to wetlands or rivers, or to the specific value lost.
  • If aquatic compensation is note appropriate, then the activity should be avoided.  In essence this means that resource consent should not be granted.  The term appropriate is not defined and is inherently subjective.  There is therefore potential for different people or groups to disagree over whether compensation is appropriate or not.


The direction relating to wetlands in this part of the NPSFM 2020 focuses on natural inland wetlands.  A natural inland wetland as defined in the RMA, that is not in the CMA and is not constructed by artificial means (unless constructed to offset impacts or restore a former existing wetland), a geothermal wetland, or an area of improved pasture 5235   at the commencement date that is subject to temporary rain-derived pooling.

Regional councils must identify and map ever natural inland wetland in their region that is 0.05ha or greater in extent or of a type naturally less than 0.05ha.  

The mapping exercise must be completed within 10years and can be undertaken using a staged approach identifying certain classes of wetlands or using existing information first.  Mapped wetlands must be recorded in an inventory and must be identified by location and type, along with any monitoring information. The inventory must be maintained overtime.

The NPSFM 2020 then includes text for a policy to be included in regional plans without using a process in Schedule 1 (i.e. without public input).  The policy sets out a framework for how adverse effects of activities on natural inland wetlands are to be managed.  The starting point is the same as the outcome relating to wetlands in the NPSFM 2020’s policies: that the loss of extent of natural inland wetlands is avoided, their values protected, and their restoration promoted.  This is then followed by a series of activities to which that direction does not apply or to certain circumstances to which it does not apply.  An accompanying rule structure is set out in the NES-F which ties directly into this policy.

In its decision on the Matawii Water Storage Reservoir 5236  the Expert Consenting Panel interpreted the requirement to avoid the loss of extent of natural wetlands, as being focused on maintaining overall extent as opposed to preventing any loss of extent existing at the time a decision is made.  As a result, I found the proposed reservoir was consistent with this requirement because although 0.93 ha of wetland was lost, 1.83ha of area would be revegetated to return to wetland, along with other enhancement.  Whether this interpretation is correct is likely to be the subject of legal debate before the Courts at some stage.

The activities that may be subject to an exception include customary harvest, restoration, scientific research, sustainable harvest of sphagnum moss, construction, maintenance, and operation of wetland utility structures, specific infrastructure, and natural hazard works. 

An exception is also provided for activities relating to specified infrastructure in respect of which the regional council is satisfied that certain functional and construction-based needs apply and that effects can be managed through the effects management hierarchy specified in the NPSFM 2020.  In Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency v Manawatū-Wanganui Regional Council 5237  the Environment Court found that the proposed Manawatū Tararua Highway was the type of infrastructure to which the exception to avoiding loss of extent of applies because it is a lifeline utility and specified infrastructure providing significant national and regional benefits, it had a functional need to be in the proposed location after considering other options, and effects could be managed via the effects management hierarchy. 5238

In respect of these exception activities and circumstances, regional councils must ensure regional plans state that resource consent cannot be granted unless the applicant has demonstrated how each step of the effects management hierarchy will be applied, and that any consent is subject to conditions that apply the effects management hierarchy and monitoring of the wetland.


There is not additional identification process for rivers over and above that in the NOF.  There is however direction regarding how effects on rivers must be managed.  This direction is similar to that applying to wetlands.  As a starting point the loss of rivers and their extent and values is to be avoided.  An exception to this is provided for activities that the regional council is satisfied have a functional need to locate in the river and that the effects of the activity can be managed through the effects management hierarchy.   This was found by the Environment Court to be the case for the proposed Manawatū Tararua Highway in Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency v Manawatū-Wanganui Regional Council. 5239   With restrictions including placement to ensure earthquake resilience, and to align with the topography and geography of the area. 

 In situations where this exception applies, regional councils must not grant an application unless the applicant has demonstrated how each step of the effects management hierarchy will be applied, and that any consent is subject to conditions that apply the effects management hierarchy. 

Specific action is also required in respect of rivers that have a target attribute state for deposited fine sediment in order to achieve the environmental outcomes and values for that river.  For these rivers deposited sediment must be monitored at least once a year and habitat must be monitored. A decision needs to be made as to whether to return the river to a hard bottomed stated and if it is decided to do so, then an action plan is required to be designed for doing this.

Fish passage

Regional plans must include a mandatory objective that the passage of fish is maintained, or is improved, by instream structures, unless it is desirable to prevent passage of some fish to protect other fish.

To implement this objective regional councils are directed to include policies in the regional plan that identify: 

  • Fish species for which passage should be provided and fish species for which it should not.
  • Rivers where fish species needing passage have been identified and rivers where fish species that should be prevented from moving to manage their adverse effects on other species up or down stream.
  • Specific matters that must be considered by decision-makers when considering an application for resource consent for an instream structure.  These relate to the extent to which passage is provided for over the life of the structure and how efficient and safe, and responsive to physical and hydraulic conditions that passage is, the extent to which it does not increase existing passage difficulties, and any proposed monitoring and maintenance plan.

In addition, the support the regional plan in achieving its fish passage objective regional councils must prepare an action plan for its achievement which includes a work programme for improving passage via existing structures (including identifying and evaluating these structures and developing a remediation prioritisation programme and a monitoring programme), set structure remediation targets, achieve fish diversity and abundance outcomes and targets.

 Large hydro-electric generation schemes

The NPSFM 2020 includes specific considerations that decision-makers under the NPSFM 2020 must have regard to when implementing the NPSFM 2020 in an FMU with one of five schemes presented, being: 

  • Waikato Scheme
  • Tongariro Scheme
  • Waitaki Scheme
  • Manapouri Scheme
  • Clutha Scheme

 Where this is the case decision-makers must have regarding to the Scheme’s: 

  • Contributions to meeting greenhouse gas emission reduction targets
  • Contributions to maintaining security of electricity supply
  • Generation capacity, storage, and operational flexibility

The presence of one of these Schemes in an FMU also impacts the process for identifying target attribute states.

Specified vegetable growing areas

Two specified vegetable growing areas are subject to specific direction under the NPSFM 2020, one in Pukekohe and one in Horowhenua.  When implementing the NPSFM 2020 in a FMU that includes all or part of one of these areas decision-makers must have regard to: 

  • The domestic supply of fresh vegetables
  • Maintaining food security for New Zealanders

The presence of one of these Schemes in an FMU also impacts the process for identifying target attribute states.

These directions apply either for a maximum of 10 years from 3 September 2020 or when regulations are introduce specifically focused on managing these areas.

Water allocation 

Limited direction is provided to regional councils about how they should allocate water and issue water permits.  This is despite this being a key area of concern, with the competing pressures of existing holders wanting to hold on to the water to which they have access, new users including tangata whenua wanting to have access to water in order to use their land for productive purposes, and the need in many areas to reduce water take in order to improve the health of the water body. 

The NPSFM 2020 simply states that regional plans must include criteria for how to decide applications for water take permits and for improving and maximising effecting allocation.  No criteria of national application are provided.

Monitoring, accounting, assessment, and reporting

In combination, these aspects of the freshwater management framework introduced by the NPSFM 2020 work to provide a picture of the current state of freshwater bodies and ecosystems, how successful measures adopted as a result of the NPSFM 2020 are at improving or maintaining that state in order to reach their desired future state, and making sure this information is comprehensive, digestible, and publicly available. 


Generally, under the NOF process every regional council is required to establish methods for monitoring progress toward achieving target attribute states and environmental outcomes set for each of its region’s FMUs.

Regional councils are also subject to specific monitoring requirements.  They are required to have a monitoring plan to assess the condition of natural inland wetlands and the effectiveness of its plan in ensuring no loss of extent or values.  They must also have a monitoring plan for the condition of rivers.  In respect of both regional councils must also have methods in place to respond to a situation where monitoring shows a loss of extent or values.

As part of its action plan on fish passage, each regional council must include a monitoring programme for evaluating the ongoing performance of structures that have been remediated to improve fish passage.

Specific monitoring is required for primary contact sites, being those sites identified by the regional council that it considers is regularly used, or would be regularly used but for existing water quality, for recreational activities where people are in or come into direct contact with freshwater (e.g. swimming, kayaking).   Regional councils must identify these sites, and representative monitoring sites and a typical bathing season for them.  Generally, they must monitor them for risk to human health and their suitability for the activities occurring in them.  During bathing season, they must measure E. coli weekly.  If E. coli reaches certain trigger levels the council must either increase its monitoring or take all practicable steps to notify the public that the site is not suitable for swimming.


An accounting system is required for water quality and quantity for each FMU.  The purpose of accounting is to record and provide the baseline information for:

  • Setting target attribute states, environmental flows and levels, and limits (take limits and limits on resource use);
  • Assessing whether an FMU is or is expected to be over-allocated in terms of water take or a specific contaminant (e.g. have more water being extracted or more contaminants entering into it than should be if target attribute states are to be met)
  • Track overtime the cumulative effects of activities (eg consents granted) on the waterbody and so achievement of target attribute states and environmental outcomes for each FMU.

For freshwater quality this is achieved through keeping an up to date record of contaminant loads and concentrations, sources of contaminants and the amount attributable to each source, and how much of a contaminant load has been allocated if a desired load has been set as a limit in the regional plan.

Crucially this also means tracking the cumulative effect of consents as they continue to be granted against the limit on resource use that is set. Accounting is intended to be the ‘balance sheet’ of a catchment so that when full allocation is reached (the limit on resource use is reached) an appropriate rule structure should be in place that prohibits the granting of further consents and thereby over-allocation is avoided.

For freshwater quantity this is achieved through keeping an up to date record of the amount of water being taken, how much is taken by different uses, where a take limit is set, how much has been allocated. This is then used to track the cumulative effect of water permits against the take limit as set and the environmental flow. The accounting system should signal when full allocation is reached and therefore no further water permits can be issued. 

Assessing and reporting

Annually regional councils must publish annual data for ecosystem health and human health for each relevant attribute for each FMU, data from any other freshwater monitoring, and an explanation of any uncertainties in the data.  

When preparing its 5 yearly report about the efficiency and effectiveness of the policies, rules, and methods in its policy statement and plan, each regional council must specifically prepare and publish information on the achievement of its freshwater objectives (both long term vision objectives and FMU-level environmental outcome objectives set under the NOF), the extent to which the NPSM 2020 has been given effect to, and an assessment of the extent to which target attribute states and the health of each FMU.   As part of this it must prepare and publish and ecosystem score card, the primary purpose of which is to give a score for ecosystem health in each FMU.

  1. Clause 1.2(1), NPSFM 2020

  2. Section 55, RMA 1991.

  3. Cl 1.4, NPSFM 2020.

  4. Defined in cl 3.21, NPSFM 2020.

  5.  Silvak v Lurgi (Australia) Pty Ltd [2001] HCA 6, (2001) 205 CLR 304 at [53],; T and T Quarries Ltd v Inspector of Quarries [1964] NZLR 621 (SC) at 623.

  6. Cl 1.4, NPSFM 2020.

  7. Appendix 3, NPSFM 2020.

  8. Cl 1.4, NPSFM 2020.

  9. Appendix 2A and 2B, NPSFM 2020.

  10. Cl 3.10(1)(b), NPSFM 2020.

  11. Cls 3.31, 3.32, and 3.33, NPSFM 2020.

  12. Cl 1.4, NPSFM 2020.

  13. Defined as an area where exotic pasture species have been deliberately sown or maintained for the purpose of pasture production, and species composition growth has been modified and managed for livestock grown, and exotic pasture species make up at least 50% of the species present.

  14. At [337]-[340]. Link: Decision No (

  15. [2020] NZEnvC 192.

  16. At [314].

  17. 2020] NZEnvC 192.

Last updated at 4:32PM on August 25, 2021