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.


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.

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. Unless you are expanding your area of grazing, or undertaking  new grazing then you do not need consent under the regulations for winter 2022. Forms are under development and will be available for use over the next couple of months.

In the meantime, you will need to follow rules about intensive grazing in Otago’s Water Plan, which are designed to protect waterways.  You are also strongly encouraged to have a management plan for your grazing activity for winter 2022. If you can answer yes to the below you do not need consent for winter 2022 under the regional rules:

  • Land was used for grazing between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019 (inclusive)
  • The area of your farm used for grazing is no greater than the maximum area of the farm used for grazing between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019 (inclusive)
  • You maintain a vegetative strip of 5m between the area you are grazing and any river, lake, wetland or drain (excluding sub-surface) and stock are excluded from this area
  • You do not graze in a natural wetland
  • You do not graze in a critical source area unless contaminants are prevented from entering a surface waterbody.

If you can’t say yes to the above, then you may be able to continue intensive grazing  this season without a consent under existing use rights, provided you continue grazing on the same scale with the same effects you have previously. This means if you are doing the same as last season, you should have existing use rights and should not need a consent.

Anyone who is unsure if they need a consent is encouraged to get in touch with our Consents Team on 0800 474 082 or by emailing for help.

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

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 wetland that is not:

(a) a wetland constructed by artificial means (unless it was constructed to offset impacts on, or restore, an existing or former natural wetland); or

(b) a geothermal wetland; or

(c) any area of improved pasture that, at the commencement date, is dominated by (that is more than 50% of) exotic pasture species and is subject to temporary rain-derived water pooling

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.

  • 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.

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.


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.

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. This may mean you have to reduce stocking rates.

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 ORC on what you use annually.

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

For more information, please read the MfE factsheet here.

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.

To avoid duplication and reduce the complexity of two sets of rules, ORC has made a submission on its own water quality plan changes requesting the withdrawal of proposed new rules that address some of the same activities as the Freshwater NES.

While we are awaiting a decision on the Environment Court on this matter, you’ll need to be aware of both national and local rules that may apply to you. ORC is here to help you with this.


The proposed water quality plan changes to the Water Plan (Plan Change 8) include:

(Please note: the factsheets in these dropdowns relate to ORC's proposed Water Quality Plan Changes (PC8 and PC1). There are new factsheets coming about the new national rules (the Freshwater NES) which will replace some of these.)


The rules apply now for new and existing animal waste storage. More information can be found on our fact sheets, or in our media release.  

View a fact sheet about effluent
View a fact sheet about effluent storage consents
View a fact sheet about rules, definitions and timelines for effluent

All new ponds and tanks will generally require resource consent before they are constructed. Some smaller structures that are not used for storage will not need consent.  When you apply for a land use consent for your storage you will also need to apply for a consent to discharge effluent to land.

Existing effluent storage constructed prior to 25 March 2020 that does not meet the permitted criteria is temporarily permitted with an application for consent not needing to be lodged until at least 4 June 2023 or until a later date for some systems.  However, farmers are encouraged to apply now or to start thinking about their storage system.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are wintering barns considered to be animal waste systems?

Yes, if they involve the collection, storage and conveyance of animal waste.

How should I determine how much storage my storage pond should have?

In most cases, you can use the Dairy Effluent Storage Calculator to determine your storage. This calculator is available online.

In the consent application you will need to provide information on volumes to ensure the structure is going to be big enough to store the volume of effluent generated on your farm. You may need to engage a suitably qualified professional to provide the information to support your consent application.

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 cause a visual change in colour or clarity of the water
    • Your stock 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.
  • New rules that are in place now. Earthworks for residential development is 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 “residential development” is not defined in Plan Change 8. The National Planning Standards define ‘residential activity’  as “…the use of land and building(s) for people’s living accommodation.” This means that if the development is for the purpose of a residential activity, that the rule in PC8 will apply.

The term “residential development” can apply to activities 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.
    • Earthworks are undertaken to establish infrastructure in any zone, including residential zone, if the infrastructure is not directly associated with the residential activity on/in the vicinity of the site (for example, installation of railway tracks).


The proposed water quality plan changes to the Waste Plan (Plan Change 1) include:

  • Amended rules and a new rule providing permitted, discretionary and prohibited dust suppressant standards.
  • Read more details about the new rules here: Fact Sheet - Regional Plan Waste
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