New ‘Action for Healthy Waterways’ regulations 

Central government released the ‘Action for Healthy Waterways’ regulations (also known as 'Essential Freshwater') on 5th August 2020. These regulations include: 
  1. A new National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater at this link.
  2. National Environment Standards (NES) at this link.
  3. Stock exclusion (s360) regulations at this link.
  4. Amendments to regulations for the Measurement and Reporting of Water Takes at this link.
The regulations come into force on 3 September 2020, although some of the specific rules come into force at a later date. 

What do I need to know now?

The regulations are now in place and will require a cabinet decision to amend. This means that, irrespective of unworkability, impracticality or costs, some of the rules are in effect now or shortly will be. These are summarised in the chart below .

 A summary of the regulations relating to each topic are included in the fact sheets below. We are working through the regulations and will provide further information as we go, including answers to frequent questions.

What is Federated Farmers doing about the unworkable parts of these regulations?

While we are highlighting the unworkable or prohibitively costly components of the regulations as a whole, there are some that are either in place, or which farmers will have to plan for shortly. These are our immediate priorities, including:
  1. The consent requirements for winter grazing. While these do not take effect until next year, farmers will need to make decisions around planting now. 
  2. The map used to define low slope. This is entirely inaccurate and now captures a greater area than was initially proposed.

As above, the regulations are now in place and will require a cabinet decision to amend. We agree with farmer concerns and we are working with farmers, industry (particularly Beef & Lamb) and other organisations to highlight our concerns to central and regional government. 

Our aims are twofold; first to seek clarity on those areas that are not clear, and as a priority to ensure there is a firm commitment from central government to fix issues that are of most concern to farmers and communities.

Where can I go to get more information?

Federated Farmers is reviewing the specific regulations and we will continue to provide and update the advice and provide answers to your questions. The fact sheets and information on this webpage will be updated as we work through the regulations and we will also communicate with members via emails, webinars and via Facebook.

Smart investment in improving water quality  need smart data

Have we got the smart environmental data we need to inform the smart environmental investments? The short answer is no.

Attached is Federated Farmers of New Zealand’s analysis of the Government’s Our Freshwater 2020 report jointly published by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand (StatsNZ).  

The Our Freshwater 2020 report is intended as the authoritative source of data on national state and trends which seemingly supports the narrative that, with respect to the quality of New Zealand’s freshwater, everything is going backwards.

But is it? And if it is, where is it?

To help find the answers, Federated Farmers turned to and analysed the wealth of supporting data which sits behind Our Freshwater 2020 – most of it did not make it into the main report. 

  • The Our Freshwater 2020 report states that we’re losing wetlands, the NZ Greenhouse Gas Inventory tells us wetlands are increasing, StatsNZ commentary on the wetlands data table says no-one really knows.
  • The Our Freshwater 2020 report states that freshwater habitats are degraded, StatsNZ data tells us 80% of monitored sites had good or excellent habitat, and no sites were poor…
  • Macro-invertebrates are a key indicator of stream health. 
    o Depending on how you squint your eyes, 9% rate of decline/4% rate of improvement  (high confidence) or 38% rate of decline/ 26% rate of improvement (low confidence), 
    o While statements that twice of many rivers are degrading compared to those that were improving is technically accurate (using the high confidence figures) this statement did not tell the complete story that the remaining 87% were stable and that many of the degrading waterways were in native land cover.
Federated Farmers believe work is needed to make our national environmental reports fit for purpose. So that we can get past debating statistics and focus on prioritising what we collectively need to do to make progress. We strongly endorse recommendations made by the PCE in 2019, and again yesterday for urgent improvements.  

The latest Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) report - A review of the funding and prioritisation of environmental research in New Zealand - Environmental research funding review ( provides a useful commentary on the state of our current environmental reporting.
Please read the below Federated Farmers analysis of the data behind the Our Freshwater 2020 report in our report  Our Freshwater 2020: Federated Farmers of New Zealand Analysis & Recommendations.

Please feel free to contact me for further information and/or engagement.

Gavin Forrest
GM Policy & Advocacy
027 934 9848
[email protected] 

Member Advisories

 South Island Freshwater Farm Plan/Low Slope Map consultations moved to webinars (20/09/2021) 
   Freshwater Farm Plan/Low Slope Map Consultations
 Essential Freshwater Roadshow: Essential Freshwater Update (25/11/2020) 
   Federated Farmers Waikato and Auckland are hosting several meetings throughout the regions to help you understand the new freshwater regulations and discuss its implications for our farmers and the region...
 ‘Existing use rights’ and existing resource consents for winter grazing this season (7/09/2020) 
   New national rules apply to intensive winter grazing from 1 May 2021, under the new National Environmental Standards for Freshwater Regulations 2020 (NES)...
 Are you impacted by the low slope rules? Please answer our survey (2/09/2020) 
   How do the new stock exclusion regulations impact you?...
 Action for healthy waterways - Update (27/08/2020) 
   As previously advised, significant freshwater regulations were released by the government on 5 August 2020...


Federated Farmers of Gisborne Submission for Essential Freshwater

Posted on 15/09/2022
Provincial submission from Federated Farmers of Gisborne on the Essential Freshwater Proposals

Submission on proposed changes to the Low Slope Map Regulations 2020

Posted on 8/10/2021
While these changes address some concerns, they still do not go far enough. It would be impossible to establish a method of accurately identifying the land where the proportional environmental benefits out weigh the costs.