The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 is an important policy which was updated in 2020. It introduces significant changes to how freshwater is managed in New Zealand.
Regional councils now need to update their existing regional plans (or create new plans) to implement changes in the new policy statement. Regional plans set out policies and rules for water quality. Councils must notify updated or new regional plans by December 2024.
What does it mean for dairy farmers?
Under the new policy statement, councils must set long term visions for freshwater in their regions, identify values and objectives for freshwater and set targets and limits relating to freshwater quality and quantity.
The new policy statement sets some requirements that must be met, such as national bottom lines for some water quality attributes (for example nitrogen and E.Coli).
The targets and limits councils set in regional plans may result in rules and limits being stricter than those currently in place for some regions.
Improvements to freshwater may also be achieved through non-regulatory methods such as catchment management plans or groups and educational approaches.
The new policy statement also requires the protection of wetlands and regional councils must identify and map wetlands within 10 years.
Note: If you have a wetland of any size on your farm rules already apply under the new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management. Other new rules (for example intensive winter grazing, stockholding areas, N-cap, farm intensification, stock exclusion) are also in force now. See the Freshwater regulation page.
How do I get involved?
The new policy statement requires councils to engage with tangata whenua and communities when developing or changing regional plans.
Formal submissions on regional plan changes won’t happen until plans are notified (by 31 December 2024 at the latest). There will also be opportunities to be involved earlier in the planning process and we strongly encourage farmers to get involved early when the direction of a plan is being developed.
Below are some actions you could take to make sure you know what’s happening in your region:
- Keep an eye on council websites, emails, publications and Facebook pages. They will provide information on any upcoming meetings, engagements or consultations.
- Get to know your local regional council staff (such as land management staff, water scientists, and compliance staff). If you let them know you are interested they can often link you into things that are going on and tell you which consultation to look out for.
- Find out about any groups in your region that are run by or connected to the council – Freshwater Management Unit Groups, catchment groups, landowner liaison groups. Even if you don’t want to or can’t join yourself, you may be able to talk to farmers who are part of these to help keen you updated on what’s happening.
- Talk to your local regional councillor(s), their names and contact details should be published on the council website.
- Talk to your DairyNZ consulting officer. They are linked in to DairyNZ’s advocacy on your behalf and can often point you in the right direction.
If you're asked to participate in a consultation, here are some things you might want to raise or ask questions about:
- What process will be followed to develop the plan? What is being proposed?
- How will the changes proposed affect me in the future?
- Has the council considered the broader impact on the community of making changes? That includes the economic and social wellbeing of the community?
- If we need to change how we farm in the future under the new rules, are the changes achievable and is enough time being provided for farmers to introduce changes?
What can I do on my farm?
Plan and take action to ensure you are meeting good management practices on your farm – this will help you meet current rules and prepare for any changes. This includes things like:
- Knowing your numbers
- starting a Farm Environment Plan
- looking at (and implementing where necessary) options for reducing your nitrogen use
National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management
Te Mana o Te Wai is a central principal of the new policy statement and elevates the importance of water in decision making. Te Mana o Te Wai sets out obligations for managing freshwater which guide regional plans and resource consents. It prioritises:
- First, the health and well-being of water
- Second, providing for human health such as drinking water
- Lastly providing for all other uses for people and communities to provide for their social, economic and cultural well-being.
For more information see the Te Mana o Te Wai page.
The National Objectives Framework (NOF) forms part of the NPSFM and sets out the steps councils must take in developing their regional freshwater plans.
Under this framework, Freshwater Management Units (FMUs) are established, water quality attributes and water quality limits are set, and methods of achieving water quality outcomes are decided (for example rules in a plan). A FMU may be at a waterway, catchment or wider level.
The NOF also sets national bottom lines which are water quality attribute limits (indicators of water quality) that must be met. Councils may set higher targets, as well as identifying other attributes to include within their region. Water take limits must also be set as part of the NOF process.
The national policy document and more detail is available through the Ministry for the Environment website.