New Regional and National Water Rules

We welcome the Action for Healthy Waterways regulations, which are designed to restore and protect the health of New Zealand waterways. Alongside these, there are new regional rules you may need to be aware of.

Jump to:

New National Rules

New Regional Rules


Water quality in Otago is generally very good, and our community has told us they value healthy waterways for recreation, drinking water, mahinga kai, ecological health and to support industries such as farming and tourism.

The intent of the new framework is to stop degradation of our waterways now and achieve improvement where water quality is degraded.

The new provisions and rules will provide welcome certainty and clarity for our rural communities. We will need to work together to achieve the improvement we all want to see. Achieving healthy waterways for Otago is everyone’s responsibility.

At ORC, we are responsible for implementing the new regulations and rules, and monitoring compliance, and will work alongside Otago’s rural landowners and our urban residents to provide as much information and support as possible as the new rules roll out.  Our own freshwater work programme, which includes a new Land and Water Regional Plan to be notified by 2023, as well as proposed changes to the policies and rules in our own water and waste plans, positions us well to better align ourselves with the direction set by the Action for Healthy Waterways reforms.

We are already underway with a work programme to implement the Action for Healthy Waterways reforms, including information about when each new rule will apply and what rural landowners will need to do. We will take an “education first” approach to the implementation of these changes and work proactively with the community to ensure they understand the new requirements and obligations.

Watch the Ministry for the Environment's webinar: Translating the new national policy statement and putting it into action


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 0800 474 082 or email our consents teams if it’s about whether you need a resource consent. There’s more information about applying for a resource consent here. ORC staff can come to your property to help guide you through the new rules.


New National Rules

What do the new national rules mean for rural landowners?

The new rules won’t come into force all at once, so you will able to adapt to the new regulations over a period of time. There are national rules that came into effect on 3 September 2020 that you'll need to comply with now, and some things that you’ll need to do in the next few months or years. 

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

  • Feedlot standards
  • Agricultural intensification
  • Standards to protect natural wetland
  • Fish passage standards
  • River reclamation standards
  • Stock exclusion regulations


The following topics are covered by the new national rules. Click on each heading for more details:

You will have to meet the following minimum standards for feedlots:

  • 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 if you cannot meet the standards 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 ORC 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 ORC for a resource consent.

For more information, please read the MfE factsheet here.


Frequently Asked Questions

What type of foundations do I need for my feedlot?

The type of foundations you use is up to you and the person designing your waste management system. However, to avoid needing a resource consent, 90% of the cattle held in the feedlot must be no more than four months old or weigh no more than 120kg. If you are not able to comply with this, the base area of the feedlot needs to be sealed to the minimum permeability of 109m/s for the feedlot to be a discretionary activity, otherwise it would be non-complying. There are a few other things you need to be aware of in relation to your feedlot which can be found here.

When designing the foundations for your feedlot we advise you to engage a suitably qualified person.


From now until the end of 2024, you will have to obtain a resource consent from ORC if you want to do any of the following:

  • 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.


Frequently Asked Questions

If my farm is already used for dairy support proposes, and I want to increase the area of dairy support land, do I need to get a resource consent?

Yes, if the area of dairy support land that is created is greater than the area of land used as dairy support land between the period 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019. 

Do I need to get a resource consent to convert a farm to dairy support purposes, if it hasn’t been used for this before?

Yes, under regulation 22 of the NES-F, a resource consent will be required as a discretionary activity. Consent may only be granted by ORC if we are satisfied that the contaminant load in the catchment, or the concentration of contaminations in water, will not increase compared with the loads and/or concentrations as at 2 September 2020.

If my dairy farm is already irrigated in the 12 months before 2 September 2020 and I want to increase the area of irrigation, do I need to get a resource consent?

Yes, if you are intending to irrigate more than the maximum area of irrigation in the 12 months before 2 September 2020 plus an additional 10ha.

However, adding 12ha of new irrigation while removing 2ha of current irrigation would not require a resource consent.

If I did not irrigate my dairy farm in the 12 months before 2 September 2020, do I need to get resource consent to irrigate it now?

Yes, if the maximum area of irrigation will exceed 10ha.

Winter 2023

The Government recently announced that the national rules for existing intensive winter grazing will take effect from 1 November 2022 and apply to the 2023 season starting 1 May 2023. 

If you cannot meet the permitted criteria in the NES-FW (National environmental standards for freshwater) then you will need your consent in place by 1 May 2023. Forms and supporting resources are available on our website 

Click here for Intensive winter grazing tips and consent information.

As well as filling in the consent application form you will need to include an intensive winter grazing management plan in your application. We have a template you can use for this, but you can use any winter grazing plan template.

Intensive Winter Grazing management plan (Word format)

Intensive Winter Grazing management plan (PDF format)

The Consents Team will process the applications as quickly as they can.

The permitted criteria from the NES-FW is shown below. If you cannot meet any of this then you will need to apply for consent. Anyone who is unsure if they need a consent is encouraged to get in touch with our Consents Team:

Phone 0800 474 082

We can also email or post you the resource consent application form.

Permitted criteria from the NES-FW

At all times the area of the farm that is used for intensive winter grazing must be no greater than 50 ha or 10% of the area of the farm, whichever is greater

The slope of any land under an annual forage crop that is used for intensive winter grazing must be 10 degrees or less, determined by measuring the slope over any 20m distance of the land

Livestock must be kept at least 5m away from the bed of any river, lake, wetland, or drain (regardless of whether there is any water in it at the time)

On and from 1 May to 30 September of any year, in relation to any critical source area that is within, or adjacent to, any area of land that is used for intensive winter grazing on a farm,—

  1. the critical source area must not be grazed; and
  2. vegetation must be maintained as ground cover over all of the critical source area; and
  3. maintaining that vegetation must not include any cultivation or harvesting of annual forage crops.

Click here if you are ready to apply for a consent (scroll down to Winter Grazing).

From 3 September 2020, you will need to:

  • Avoid clearing indigenous vegetation, earthworks, drainage or taking, damming or diverting water in and around a 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 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.
  • Report information to ORC if you undertake a permitted activity under the Freshwater NES.

For more information, please read the MfE factsheet here.

Read ORC's factsheet about wetlands here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a natural wetland?

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FW) defines a natural wetland as:

A natural inland wetland means a wetland (as defined in the Act) that is not:

(a) in the coastal marine area; or
(b) a deliberately constructed wetland, other than a wetland constructed to offset impacts on, or to restore, an existing or former natural inland wetland; or
(c) a wetland that has developed in or around a deliberately constructed water body, since the construction of the water body; or
(d) a geothermal wetland; or
(e) a wetland that:
(i) is within an area of pasture used for grazing; and
(ii) has vegetation cover comprising more than 50% exotic pasture species (as identified in the National List of Exotic Pasture Species using the Pasture Exclusion Assessment Methodology (see clause 1.8)); unless
(iii) the wetland is a location of a habitat of a threatened species identified under clause 3.8 of this National Policy Statement, in which case the exclusion in (e) does not apply

What is a wetland?

The Resource Management Act defines a wetland as follows: “A wetland includes permanently or intermittently wet areas, shallow water, and land water margins that support a natural ecosystem of plants and animals that are adapted to wet conditions.”

Who owns natural wetlands?  

Natural wetlands may be in public or private ownership.

How do I define the boundary of the natural wetland on my land?

The boundaries of natural wetlands are determined on a case-by-case basis based on the definitions above. If you look at the vegetation types, where the native vegetation ends will typically form the edge of the wetland. In all cases a conservative approach should be adopted. 

Will Otago Regional Council staff help me to define my wetland?

Yes, ORC staff will respond to queries relating to the identification of natural wetlands and are developing a programme to map Otago’s natural wetlands. We are required to identify and map every natural inland wetland in the region that is:

  • 05 hectares or greater in extent; or
  • less than 0.05 hectares in extent (such as an ephemeral wetland) and known to contain threatened species.

This mapping must be completed within 10 years of the NPS-FM 2020 coming into force.

Why protect all wetlands?

The Ministry for the Environment factsheet explains why there are new rules in place to protect all wetlands:

The NES, NPS-FM 2020 and stock exclusion regulations are designed to prevent further loss of New Zealand’s valuable natural wetlands and associated ecosystems.

New Zealand wetlands provide essential habitat for a diverse range of endemic flora and fauna, including critically endangered birds like matuku and kōtuku, as well as 67 per cent of freshwater and estuarine fish species, and 13 per cent of nationally threatened plant species. Wetlands provide essential ecosystem services, acting as buffers for flooding, nutrient cyclers, water purifiers and carbon sinks. Replacing these ecosystem services with infrastructure like constructed wetlands, flood barriers and dams generally costs more than avoiding their loss in the first place.

The value of wetlands has not been historically recognised, and many were drained to create additional ‘usable’ land. This has resulted in the loss of over 90 per cent of New Zealand’s historical inland wetland extent.”

Read the full factsheet here.

Can I graze my stock on a wetland to help keep pests and grasses down?

No because new NES-FM regulations, which apply from 1 July 2023, introduce a requirement for beef cattle, dairy support cattle, pigs and deer to be excluded from all wetlands. In addition, policy 6 of the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater requires that there is no further loss of extent of natural inland wetlands, their values are protected, and their restoration is promoted.

Can I maintain a drain within and outside of a wetland?

Yes, if undertaken in accordance with permitted activity regulations 46 and 55 in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater. You can find these regulations here. You can carry out vegetation clearance and earthworks within a wetland to maintain a drain without a consent as long as you do not change the hydrological function of the wetland. You cannot:

  • deepen or widen the drain
  • alter the water level within the wetland

You are limited to clearing 500m2 or 10% of the wetland, whichever is less.

Can I install new drains within a wetland?

No, the construction of new drains within a wetland is prohibited under regulation 53 of the NES-FM.

Can I install a new drain within 100m of a wetland?

Potentially yes. However, you will need a resource consent to allow you to do this. This is classified as a non-complying activity under regulation 52. The criteria for obtaining resource consent for a non-complying activity is very high and public notification of an application may occur.

Can I apply animal effluent to land in or near a natural wetland?

The application of animal effluent to land is not captured by Regulation 54 of the NES, as it is not water. However, the discharge still falls under the rules in the Regional Plan: Water and may require consent under these rules.

Note: The irrigation of water is captured by both Regulation 54 of the NES and the Regional Plan: Water

  • 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 ORC if required under the Freshwater NES.

National and regional rules on Fish Passage 

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.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is re-instating a riverbank considered reclamation?

Yes. Re-instating a riverbank after a flood event is classified as reclamation under the NES-F. Consent is required under regulation 57.

In the NES-F reclamation means the humanmade formation of permanent dry land by the positioning of material into or onto any part of a waterbody, bed of a lake or river or the coastal marine area, and:

(a) includes the construction of any causeway; but

(b) excludes the construction of natural hazard protection structures such as seawalls, breakwaters or groynes except where the purpose of those structures is to form dry land.

Does building out a riverbank count as reclamation?

Yes. If you are building out the bank into the river this constitutes reclamation.

If I permanently divert a watercourse and fill in the old bed, does this count as reclamation?

Yes. Even if the remnant channel is not filled in, it has become dry land so it counts as reclamation. 

If I fill in the area around a culvert does this count as reclamation?

No. If the infilling around the culvert forms part of the structure, such as infilling behind the wingwalls, then it is not reclamation. However, the building out of the banks to better direct the flow of water into the culvert is reclamation and consent would be required under the NES-F.

  • Dairy and beef cattle, deer and pigs farmed in low-slope areas (less than a 10-degree slope - find out on this map if your farm is in a low-slope area) are not permitted in any 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.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have to put permanent fencing 5m back from waterways? 

No, you can use temporary fencing where stock are grazing. Neither the NES-FW or the Stock Exclusion Regulations specify the method by which stock should be excluded.

Nitrogen Reporting Requirements for Dairy Farmers

New rules about the amount of synthetic nitrogen that can be applied to pastoral land of 20ha or more came into effect on 1 July 2021. The amount of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser you can apply must not exceed 190 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare, per year, averaged across your grazed land area. To comply with the new rules, farmers are required to submit records of their synthetic nitrogen use to ORC.

Regional and unitary councils across the country have worked with Ballance and Ravensdown on a straight-forward and consistent method for collecting the required data. We’ve come up with three nitrogen use reporting tools that you can choose from to record your synthetic nitrogen use on grazed land in the twelve-month period from 1 July to 30 June in the following year. The three tools of choice are:

You will be able to submit your records through these tools now. Note, the rules require all farmers complete this reporting by 31 July each year.

HawkEye and MyBallance are existing tools which have had functionality added to allow data inputs to be used for calculating the synthetic nitrogen use by farm land-use area. When given permission by the person inputting the data it is submitted securely to the appropriate regional and unitary council/s.

The Regional Sector web portal (N-Cap) is a recording system that requires manual calculation of the same information. A calculation spreadsheet is available for download which guides you through how to create the required records – this includes information such as the farm business entity, fertiliser purchases, landholding, land use along with dates, volume, and types of synthetic nitrogen application. This information is entered into a form in the web portal and just like the fertiliser company apps, data is then submitted securely to the appropriate regional and unitary council(s).

Over time, other companies may come on board with their own apps to perform the same functions required by the new rules in the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater Management.


Training guides and videos



What happens after 31 July as that is the date the information is supposed to be submitted?

If data has not been submitted by 31 July, then ORC is likely to undertake the following actions:

  • There will be more dairy effluent inspections on farms that have not submitted their nitrogen reporting,
  • Council may undertake enforcement action on farms and farmers who have not submitted their nitrogen reporting,
  • Repeated non-compliance with the nitrogen reporting will be documented and will attract stricter enforcement action in the future.


Fertiliser data is already recorded and reported to milk supply companies. Why can’t that be used?

We are aware that many farmers already supply some fertiliser data to their dairy company. The new regulations require different data than what is currently provided. The development of the new tools by the Regional Sector and fertiliser industry has been carried out to meet those different requirements and provide a consistent way for farmers to submit data to their regional or unitary council.


What are my options if I don’t want to/can't use an online tool for recording?

A calculation spreadsheet can be used to record nitrogen use and is available from your council. If a farm owner wishes to, they can provide information directly to their regional council using this manual form however this approach is not encouraged. ORC may consider cost recovery for reporting data that is incomplete.


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


Frequently Asked Questions

Will local assessors for farm management plans be crucial?

Under the Resource Management Act, Regional Councils may have the ability to appoint certifiers and auditors for freshwater farm plans. However, a process for doing this has not yet been developed.

Is there a process for appeals when there’s a disagreement over farm management plans between farmers and assessors?

Not at this stage. The regulations for farm plans are currently under development, so no decision has been made yet about what the process for assessing farm management plans will be.

Does ORC have a compliance approach to the new regulations and farm management plans?

Yes, we are currently taking an “education first” approach to help farmers navigate the new regulations. However, any instances of significant breaches of the regulations will be referred to our compliance department. The compliance action taken will reflect the environmental effect of the breach.    

Can land holdings on different records of title, or that cross boundaries (for example ORC/Environment Canterbury) be used to offset farm intensification rules?

No. A farm is defined in the NEW-FW as a landholding whose activities include agriculture. A landholding means one or more parcels of land (whether or not they are contiguous) that are managed as a single operation. Therefore, there may be instances where several titles could be considered part of one landholding. 

With regards to cross boundary landholdings, these will be considered one landholding under the NES-FW.

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 ORC 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:

There are also a series of webinars covering topics such as stock holding, intensive winter grazing, stock exclusion, wetlands, rivers, fish passage, intensification and nitrogen use, Te Mana o te Wai and vision setting, plus compulsory values (mahinga kai, threatened species and ecosystem health).

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


New Regional Rules

ORC plan changes and proposed new rules

Alongside the new rules and policies introduced at national level, proposed plan changes to ORC’s Regional Plan: Water and the Regional Plan: Waste that strengthen Otago water quality policies and rules were notified. These rules now need to now be considered when assessing applications for resource consent.

Read about ORC’s proposed Water Quality Plan Changes here.

Plan Change 8 to the Regional Plan: Water for Otago

Plan Change 8 to the Water Plan was made partially operative on 4 June 2022.  The topics in the plan change that were made operative are:

  • New animal effluent storage and discharge rules
  • Rules for intensive water grazing
  • A new permitted activity rule for sediment traps

Other topics in the plan change that are not yet operative (but have legal effect) are:

  • Urban discharge policies
  •  Earthworks for residential development

The Proposed Plan Change 1 to the Regional Plan Waste for Otago

 Plan Change 1 to the Waste Plan was made operative on 9 July.

The topics covered in Plan change 1 are:


For regulations on stock exclusion from waterways refer to the Resource Management (Stock Exclusion) Regulations 2020.

Under our regional rules livestock can only disturb the bed of a lake, river or regionally significant wetland (excluding intentional driving of livestock) as long as:

    • You are not feeding out on the bed of the river or lake or the wetland
    • Your stock do not cause or induce noticeable slumping, pugging or erosion
    • Your stock do not cause a visual change in colour or clarity of the water
    • Your stock do not damage fauna or New Zealand native flora in or on any regionally significant wetland.
  • A new rule containing permitted standards for sediment traps in ephemeral or intermittently flowing rivers. If the standards can’t be met, then resource consent may be required.
  • The rule is enforceable now.

What is sediment?

Sediment is soil particles that are moved in water. It can be rich in both nutrients and contaminants.

What is a sediment trap?

A sediment trap is a dug out hollow or a built bund in a watercourse that collects sediment-laden water and slows the water long enough for the sediment to settle out of the water. It is encouraged for sediment traps to be constructed in non-flowing sections of watercourses.

What are they used for?

By slowing down the water’s movement, a sediment trap allows the sediment to drop out of the water. There are a number of benefits to sediment traps, including:

  • The prevention of flooding because sediment build up can obstruct water channels and reduce drainage;
  • Preventing excessive levels of sediment in waterways which can affect water quality for stock water, domestic supply and irrigation as well as the natural flora and fauna that live in the water; and
  • Sediment that is trapped can be phosphate-rich and can be returned to paddocks for soil health and pasture growth.

Do I need resource consent to build a sediment trap?

Constructing (and maintaining) a sediment trap is a permitted activity under our Regional Plan: Water rule However, if you are planning on constructing (or maintaining) a sediment trap there are still some things you need to be aware of, including:

  • It has to be solely for sediment control purposes
  • No destabilisation of any lawful structure or increased risk of flooding or erosion can occur
  • No works can occur in flowing water
  • Any buildup of sediment must be removed
  • Reasonable steps are taken to minimise the release of sediment (water remains clear 200m downstream of the disturbance) when constructing or maintaining a sediment trap
  • It cannot affect any lawful water take
  • It cannot cause any change to water level or hydrological function or any damage to fauna/flora in a regionally significant wetland.

You may still require consent

If you will be impounding water by the creation of a dam crest or considering taking or using water from the sediment trap then further permits may be required – please contact our Public Enquiries team for further information.

  • New rules are operative now (as of 3 September 2022). Earthworks for residential development are permitted where the standards can be met. Otherwise, this is a restricted discretionary activity.
  • Read more details about the new rules here


Frequently Asked Questions

What is considered to be residential development?

The term term ‘residential development’ is defined in the Water Plan and means the preparation of land for, and construction of, development infrastructure and buildings (including additions and alterations) for residential activities, and includes retirement villages. It excludes camping grounds, motor parks, hotels, motels, backpackers’ accommodation, bunkhouses, lodges and timeshares. The terms development infrastructure, residential activity, and retirement village are defined in the National Planning Standards.

This means that if the development is for the purpose of a residential activity the rules will apply. They will also apply to earthworks outside the residential zone of your District or City Council Plan. For example, the rule can apply to activities in the rural or commercial zone if the earthworks themselves are directly associated with the establishment of residential activity, or with an established residential activity on the site.

For example, the rule would apply when:

    • Earthworks are undertaken to establish a building platform for a residential dwelling in any zone.
    • Earthworks are undertaken to establish a driveway that gives access to a residential dwelling in any zone.
    • Earthworks are undertaken to establish infrastructure that is specifically designed to directly accommodate residential activity in any zone (for example installation of a local road to a new subdivision, or connection of the site onto stormwater reticulation systems).

The rule would not apply when:

    • Earthworks are undertaken to farm tracks.
    • Earthworks are undertaken to establish a commercial or industrial building, even if that building is being established in a residential zone.
    • Construction of a dam.
Back to top
Online Maps & Data: