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.


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 and ask to speak to our policy team if it’s about the rules, or our consents team 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 and advise whether you comply or would need to make changes.

This timeline shows which rules come into effect when.


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.

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.

You will be able to graze stock on forage crops in winter without needing a resource consent if:

  • The area being grazed is either less than 50 ha or 10 percent of the property, whichever is the larger (for example, on a property of 600 ha, the activity threshold is 60ha, whereas on a property of 300 ha, the threshold is 50 ha), and
  • The mean slope of your paddock is less than 10-degrees, and
  • Livestock must be kept back more than five metres from a river, lake, wetland, or drain; and
  • Pugging (which means the penetration of soil of more than 5 cm) is to be no deeper than 20 cm, and must cover less than 50 per cent of the paddock (this does not apply around fixed structures); and
  • Bare ground in paddocks subject to winter grazing is re-sown as soon as practicable, but in any event no later than 1 November of the same year; and
  • You intensively grazed the land between 1 July 2014 and 30 June 2019 and the area you intend to graze is no bigger than in that period.

From winter 2021, if you want to graze forage crops above these thresholds or exceed the practice standards, you will need to have obtained a resource consent from ORC. Crops sown in spring 2020 should comply with these requirements in anticipation, or you will need a resource consent.

Please note, if you’re currently intensively winter grazing you can keep doing this for 6 months after the new rule comes in in May 2021 if you have existing use rights. This means you’ll need to apply for a resource consent for intensive winter grazing by Oct 31 2021 to ensure you can continue to graze this way for winter in 2022.

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 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.


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.

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

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:

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 brought in at national level, the Environmental Protection Authority has recently notified proposed plan changes to ORC’s Regional Plan: Water and the Regional Plan: Waste that strengthen Otago water quality policies and rules. These rules now need to now be considered when assessing applications for resource consent. In general, national legislation takes precedence over regional rules, unless the rules in regional plans are more stringent.

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 animal waste storage.
  • All new ponds will require resource consent.
  • Existing animal waste storage constructed prior to 25 March 2020 that does not meet the permitted Rule is temporarily permitted until at least six months after the rule is operative.
  • Read the details of the new rules here: Fact Sheet - Animal Waste Systems
  • Effluent discharges that will require resource consent under the new rules are also temporarily permitted where the storage is temporarily permitted as above.
  • Read the details of the new rules here: Fact Sheet - Animal Waste Systems
  • From 2022, dairy cattle and pigs are excluded from the beds of lakes, rivers wider than 1m and Regionally Significant Wetlands. A setback of 5m applies.
  • Because this rule does not come into effect until 2022, it may be aligned with national rules or withdrawn before then.
  • Read the details of the new rules here: Fact Sheet - Stock Water Access
  • 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: Fact Sheet - Residential Earthworks


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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