Water in Otago

We all want water that is safe to swim in, gather food from, and that supports healthy ecosystems.

What is the Water Plan?

The Water Plan was set up to maintain water quality where it is already good and enhance it where needed. 

It sets rules for contaminants (nitrogen, phosphorous and E. coli) and sediment coming off rural properties into waterways from runoff, leaching and drains (non-point sources). 

As a landholder, you can choose your own methods for managing contaminant discharge to waterways, so long as you meet the thresholds in the Water Plan that will come into effect on 1 April 2020. 

This effects-based approach gives you the flexibility to decide what actions are best for you and your situation, while protecting and improving water quality. 

The Water Plan sets the environmental boundaries you can work within before needing to apply for a resource consent for a specific activity you plan to undertake. 

Request a fact pack here. This includes handy factsheets and a guide to the rules. All rules are operative now, except for the contaminant thresholds that come into effect in 2020.

Water Factsheets

Day-to-day activities can result in elevated levels of sediment, nutrients and E. Coli to enter waterways, but this can be avoided through good practice management.

Check out the below factsheets to point you in the right direction. They will also tell you the permitted and prohibited activities under the Water Plan.

Permitted activity rules describe activities that, subject to conditions, do not require a resource consent. Prohibited activity rules describe activities that are not permitted under any circumstances.

We recommend you contact your industry organisation to find out more good practice information that is relevant for you.

Sediment in Water

Effluent management

Silage and compost

Stock access to waterways

Bridges and culverts

Working in waterways

What is a river?


We recommend you regularly test the water on your property so you can understand what impact your land use is having on water quality.

Check out this booklet below that tells you more about water testing.

Sampling water quality on your farm

Working with your farming neighbours means you can learn from each other and share results. Many catchment groups already exist throughout Otago and some have set up a system for water testing; you could look at joining one, or establish one if there is a need in your area. Give one of our liaison specialists a call on 0800 474 082 to find out more.

Check out this video that explains water sampling.

Nutrient budgeting looks at inputs and outputs of nutrients from all sources in the farming system. It takes account of factors like soil losses, soil reserves, animal transfer, fertiliser inputs, and any feed brought onto or taken off the farm.

A nutrient budget will help you identify how efficiently nutrients are being used on the farm and what fertiliser is needed to maintain soil fertility, while at the same time reducing the risk of negative effects on the environment. It will also help you see if you are compliant with ORC’s nitrogen loss thresholds that become operative in 2020.

All landholders must collect and record information needed to run an OVERSEER nutrient budget. ORC can ask you for this information at any time.

OVERSEER is an agricultural management tool. It’s a computer model that:

  • produces a nutrient budget showing estimates of nutrient inputs and outputs on a farm or a block within a farm over the course of a year.
  • allows you to test ‘What if’ scenarios for any changes you might want to make in your farm management or systems.
  • helps you learn where your risk areas are for nutrient loss so you can develop a plan to minimise your risk and provide the best protection for Otago’s waterways.

We recommend you contact a certified nutrient management advisor (CNMA) to make sure you’re collecting the right information for your farming system. Plus, to comply with Water Plan rules, any OVERSEER reports submitted to ORC must be prepared by a CNMA.

Your industry rep may have a CNMA they can put you in touch with, or you can find details here.

The thresholds don’t become operative until 1 April 2020. This gives you time to review your land management practices and, if needed, modify your operations so your water quality meets the discharge thresholds.

You can apply for a short-term resource consent, which will give you more time to make further changes on your property. Longer consent periods can be sought; these applications are likely to be publicly notified.

If you have any queries about the Water Plan, please contact our liaison specialists on 0800 474 082 or email water@orc.govt.nz

Last year in our annual plan consultation we proposed undertaking environmental risk assessments on all rural properties, and lifestyle properties over two hectares in size. The Good Water Project is now underway.

What is the Good Water Project?

The Good Water Project has two purposes:

  1. To help people understand their risk when it comes to impacting on water quality and breaching rules in the Water Plan.
  2. To enable ORC to understand what actions our rural and lifestyle block community are taking to ensure they are minimising negative effects on water quality.

There are four parts to the Good Water Project

  1. A survey
    The first is a survey to explore the readiness of our community for Water Plan rules that come into effect in 2020, or are in effect already. It will also explore how many of you are involved in catchment groups, and what actions you’ve been taking to improve water quality. It will also help us understand what the biggest barriers are that may be preventing you from minimising negative impacts on water quality.

  2. Desktop assessments
    The second part is a desktop assessment for properties that we believe have a lower risk towards negatively affecting water quality. Those properties will generally be properties less than ten hectares in size, and undertake low intensity activities.

  3. On-site assessments
    The third part is an on-site assessment for properties that are larger than ten hectares, or have a medium or high potential risk of impacting on water quality. These assessments will be face-to-face to help you The Good Water Projectfully understand how the Water Plan rules relate to you. We’ll also ask you what information and support you need from ORC.

  4. Catchment water quality studies
    The fourth part involves looking closely at the water quality within a catchment. We’ve started a focused study of water quality in five catchments around Otago to look at hotspots. These are Waiareka Creek, Taieri River upstream of Waipiata, Thomsons Creek, Bannock Burn and Awamoko Stream. You may have seen our staff taking samples for analysis or already talked to our science team about the project in your area. Once we’ve analysed the data, we’ll let you know what we’ve found.

Annual Plan Feedback

We received several submissions about the project in our 2017 annual plan consultation. They told us you want us to take our time so we do this project right, including having a pilot before we roll it out through the region.

We’ve listened, and that’s why you haven’t met with us on your property yet, but we’ve been busy behind the scenes getting this project up and running.

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