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Essential Freshwater - new national water rules

Essential Freshwater regulations aim to restore and protect the health of New Zealand waterways. Hawke’s Bay has regional rules you may need to be aware of in the Regional Resource Management Plan.

About the new rules

The Hawke’s Bay community values healthy waterways for recreation, drinking water, mahinga kai, ecological health and to support industries such as farming and tourism.

The new national rules in the National Environmental Standard for Freshwater  and regulations will provide certainty and clarity for our communities. We will need to work together to achieve the improvements we all want to see. Achieving healthy waterways for Hawke’s Bay is everyone’s responsibility.

At Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, we are responsible for implementing the new regulations and rules, and monitoring compliance. We will work alongside the region’s rural landowners and our urban residents to provide information and support as the new rules roll out.

We are already underway with a work programme to implement the new Essential Freshwater rules, including information about when each new rule will apply and what rural landowners will need to do. We are taking an “education first” approach to the implementation of these changes and working proactively with the community to ensure the understanding of new requirements and obligations.

We're here to help

We know there are a lot of changes to take in and understand. We’re here to help.

If you would like more information about the new rules and how they might affect you please call 06 835 9200 and ask to speak to our consents team if it’s about whether you need a resource consent. You could also email There’s more information about applying for a resource consent here.

Useful links


Timeline of when rules come into effect

new water rules timeline cropped

New National Rules

The new rules come in stages, so you will be able to adapt to the new regulations over a period of time.

The rules that came into effect on 3 September 2020 cover the following topics:

  • Feedlot and stockholding areas
  • Winter intensive grazing
  • Agricultural intensification
  • Standards to protect natural wetlands
  • Fish passage standards
  • River reclamation standards
  • Stock exclusion from waterways

Regulations for measuring and reporting water takes have also been revised.

The following topics are covered by the new national rules.  Find out more below:

The Government announced that consultation on freshwater farm plan regulations and the low slope map opened on 26 July.

We encourage farmers to work with farming organisations and farmer representative bodies to give their views.

See the discussion documents below for more information.

Stock exclusion regulations – proposed changes
Freshwater farm plan regulations discussion document
Freshwater farm plan regulations supporting document

If you meet the following conditions in your feedlot you won’t need a consent to meet the Essential Freshwater rules:

  • 90% of the cattle held in the feedlot are younger than 4 months old OR
  • 90% of the cattle held in the feedlot are 120kg or less.

If you operate a feedlot, you may need a resource consent from HBRC if you don't  meet the conditions set out above. You will need to be able to demonstrate in your resource consent application that you can:

  • Manage the permeability of the base area so that it’s sealed to a minimum permeability standard of 10-9 metres per second; and
  • Collect, store and dispose of effluent in accordance with HBRC rules or a current discharge permit; and
  • Situate the feedlot at least 50m away from waterbodies, water abstraction bores, drainage ditches and coastal marine areas.

If you have or plan to create a stock-holding area, then similar standards will apply from 1 July 2021. You will need to check whether you need to apply to HBRC for a resource consent.

For more information, please read the MfE factsheet here.

If you want to do any of the following between now and the end of 2024, you will have to obtain a resource consent from HBRC to:

  • Increase your existing dairy farm irrigation system by more than 10 hectares or install or resurrect more than 10 hectares of dairy farm irrigation that wasn’t in place or used in the 12 months prior to 3 September 2020
  • Change any pre-existing land use (above 10 hectares) to dairy farm land use
  • Convert more than 10 hectares of forestry to pastoral farming land
  • Increase the area of land used for dairy support above the highest annual amount used for this purpose within any previous farm year between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019.

For more information, please read the MfE factsheet here.

From 3 September 2020, you will need to:

  • Avoid clearing indigenous vegetation, earthworks, drainage or taking, damming or diverting water in and around a natural wetland unless in limited circumstances.
  • You can still sustainably harvest sphagnum if you are already doing this and it meets the permitted conditions.
  • You can do some work in a natural wetland for restoration, or scientific or cultural purposes if this complies with the permitted conditions.
  • In most cases, if you want to put in new structures, or make other changes that affect the drainage of a natural wetland, you will need to get a resource consent from HBRC.
  • Report information to HBRC if you undertake a permitted activity under the Freshwater NES.

For more information, please read the MfE factsheet here.

  • From 3 September 2020, additional minimum standards will apply to any future proposed culvert or weir structure being placed in or on the bed of a lake or river.
  • Resource consent will be required if these additional standards cannot be met.
  • All future proposed passive flap gates will also require a resource consent.
  • You may also need to report information to HBRC if required under the Freshwater NES.

For more information, please read the MfE factsheet here.

From 3 September 2020:

  • A resource consent will be required for any river reclamation.
  • Streams in urban and rural areas must not be filled in (reclaimed) unless there is no other option.
  • For works that need a consent, applicants will need to demonstrate they have first avoided significant adverse effects, and minimised loss and degradation, and offset any unavoidable loss.

For more information, please read the MfE factsheet here.

  • Dairy and beef cattle, deer and pigs farmed in low-slope areas (less than a 10-degree slope if your farm is in a low-slope area) are not permitted in any natural wetland, lake, or in any river or stream more than a metre wide (bank-to-bank). Stock must be restricted from grazing within three metres from the banks of these waterways.
  • On steeper hill country, stock exclusion applies for all dairy cattle and pigs. It also applies to deer and beef cattle, for some wetlands, and where intensive farming practices are undertaken.
  • Sheep are not included in these regulations.
  • Compliance with these regulations will be required immediately for new pastoral systems, and from 1 July 2023 or 1 July 2025 for existing systems depending on the stock type, activities and location.

For more information, please read the MfE factsheet here.


All pastoral farmers will have to keep synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use below 190 kg N/ha/year. If you are applying synthetic nitrogen fertiliser over this amount, you’ll need to reduce synthetic nitrogen fertiliser rates to make sure that after 1 July 2021 you do not exceed the cap or obtain a resource consent from HBRC. This may mean you have to reduce stocking rates or take other actions to reduce rates of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on your land.

From 1 July 2021, all dairy farmers will need to record synthetic nitrogen fertiliser applied and the area it was applied to. You will then have to report to HBRC on what you use annually.

The cap does not apply to arable or horticultural land use.

These aren’t required immediately, but over the next 12+ months the government will work with stakeholder groups to develop the requirements of these, so it’s a good time to start preparing. It’s likely that they will need to include:

  • A farm map identifying features such as waterways, critical source (discharge of contaminant) areas, high erosion-prone areas, and other risks to the health of the freshwater ecosystem
  • A risk assessment for activities including irrigation, application of nutrients and effluent, winter grazing, stock-holding areas, stock exclusion, offal pits and farm rubbish pits
  • A schedule of actions to manage identified features and address risks

More information about farm planning in Hawke's Bay can be found here.

The regulations about measuring water takes have been extended. If you have a resource consent to take 5 litres or more of water per second (e.g. for irrigation) you will need to measure the water you take every 15 minutes and report this electronically to HBRC on a daily basis. This is achieved using a telemetry system.

The introduction of this requirement is being staggered. You must comply within:

  • Two years for consents to take 20 litres per second or more;
  • Four years for consents to take between 10 and less than 20 litres per second;
  • Six years for consents to take between 5 and less than 10 litres per second.

Note: Resource consent conditions may require telemetry before the dates outlined in the regulations.

The Ministry for the Environment also has more detailed information about how different groups and communities will be affected by the reforms and when they need to do what:

For more information, visit the Ministry for the Environment website. 

What else is changing?

More national rules

The Government is still developing some other national rules, including for stormwater and wastewater discharges, and developing more details on the mandatory freshwater farm plan modules.

Freshwater funding

The Government is providing some funding for freshwater initiatives, in particular the Freshwater Improvement Fund and Te Mana o te Wai Fund.  For more information visit the MfE website.

A new freshwater planning process was introduced in the Amendment to the Resource Management Act (August 2020)

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM 2020) has also been updated, coming into force on 3 September 2020.  

Together, these two changes mean that we will review all freshwater provision in the Regional Resource Management Plan to implement the NPS-FM 2020. By law we must notify the proposed new freshwater provisions for every catchment in Hawke's Bay by 31 December 2024. The new freshwater planning process will be used in the hearing and decision-making process.


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