Southland Water and Land Plan


3 min read

Outcome of appeal points What you need to know Next steps What is DairyNZ doing? Additional resources

Environment Southland has now made its Southland Water and Land plan operative. The Environment Court delivered its ninth interim decision in late 2023, and except for some minor outstanding issues, the plan is now final.


This plan precedes further changes as the council develops Plan Change Tuatahi – its wider water management plan that will align with the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

The Southland Water and Land plan was first notified in 2016 and the process has been ongoing since then. DairyNZ and Fonterra submitted a joint appeal to the plan, presenting evidence at Environment Court hearings.

DairyNZ advocated for fair outcomes throughout the plan development process, to ensure the policy framework is not unnecessarily stringent, ahead of the limit-setting NPS-FM implementation plan - Plan change Tuatahi.

DairyNZ worked with Fonterra to ensure dairy farmers can continue working their land without resource consent and that the permitted activity rules with conditions are practical for farmers to follow.

Outcome of DairyNZ main appeal points

Key issue The position we opposed We asked for Outcome
Land use for farming Some parties sought consent requirements for all farming, with far-reaching conditions. The use of land for farming should be a permitted activity, with a requirement to have a FEMP (farm environment management plan). Favourable outcome for dairy.
Ephemeral rivers Some parties wanted all farming activities excluded from ephemeral rivers. A change in terminology because these areas are not rivers as defined and they would be unworkable for farmers to manage as proposed. We sought several changes, including areas to be identified and risks addressed through the FEMP. Favourable outcome for dairy.
Degraded catchments The proposal required all farmers to have a land use consent, with far-reaching conditions. We sought for farming to be a permitted activity if farmers have a FEMP. Some additional requirements could apply for a degraded catchment. Favourable outcome for dairy. However, the FEMP framework ended up with several additional requirements which we didn’t support.
Setbacks/buffer widths Some parties sought larger setbacks than proposed by the regional council. We asked for considerations of cost and practicality. Mixed outcome.
Wintering on pasture Some parties sought a new rule to regulate high-risk wintering on pasture. We opposed a new rule and wanted risk from wintering addressed in the FEMP. We ended up with a permitted activity rule but with conditions that farmers should be able to meet.

What you need to know

As long as farmers keep doing what they have done before, they can continue with their current practices until 27 November 2024. This is called existing user rights.

Dairy farmers will need to comply with the new permitted activity conditions or apply for a resource consent within six months of the Water and Land Plan becoming operative (before 27 November 2024).

Some changes brought in with the Water and Land Plan:

  • A requirement for water quality to improve across much of Southland.
  • Contaminant losses won't be allowed to increase due to new activities, and existing activities will need to minimise losses or risk of contaminant loss. How much is not specified - this is for plan change Tuatahi to determine.
  • Farming land use will be permitted, and all farms will need a Freshwater Environment Management Plan (FEMP).
  • Requirements for what a FEMP should include are set out in an appendix to the plan.
  • Intensive Winter Grazing will be permitted but with slightly different conditions compared to the national regulations.
  • Wintering on pasture using supplement feed will have its own permitted activity rule, with some conditions, but without an area threshold. Our assessment is that farmers should be able to meet those conditions since they are good management practice.
  • Stock exclusion will be more stringent than current national regulations require.

With the new Southland Water and Land Plan (pSWLP) coming in, some existing plans will be replaced and will no longer be valid, meaning you don’t have to follow the rules in those plans.

  • The Transitional Regional Plan and the Regional Effluent Land Application Plan are revoked and become inoperative.
  • The Regional Water Plan for Southland becomes inoperative (excluding the 5 provisions relating to activities where the pSWLP proposed provisions remain under appeal).

What are the next steps?

The original intention of the pSWLP was to “hold the line” on water quality degradation, that is stop the expansion of high-risk activities and get land users moving towards good practice. This was meant to be step one of two.

Step two was meant to be a limit-setting plan which would identify water quality outcomes and catchments where there was too much pollution (over allocation), and put rules in to reduce how much pollution can be discharged to land and waterways. Due to the length of time it has taken to get the pSWLP resolved, Step one and Step two are now overlapping. Step Two is called “Plan Change Tuatahi” and we expect this to be publicly notified in the second half of 2024.

Environment Southland is currently revising the next phase of the Water and Land Plan, Plan Change Tuatahi.

Council has indicated this will focus on a ‘Southland solution to freshwater issues’ and they are in the process of defining what this will look like.

What DairyNZ is doing

Central Government announced in December 2023 an intention to replace the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM 2020) over the next 18-24 months. Due to this, the date that councils are required to notify a freshwater plan change has been extended by three years to 31 December 2027, leaving more time for regional councils and communities for this work.

DairyNZ is seeking an extension for Plan Change Tuatahi, which has been scheduled for notification by the end of 2024.

We support a revised scope for Plan Change Tuatahi that is focused on working with farmers to implement the Water and Land Plan.

We will be working with Environment Southland on what a ‘Southland solution to freshwater issues’ looks like, and developing a better economic and scientific evidence base.

Questions on this topic?

DairyNZ contact person:
David Cooper
Principal Policy Advisor

Last updated: May 2024
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