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Outstanding Freshwater Body Project

In September 2014, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Auckland Council were awarded funding by the Ministry for the Environment through their Community Environment Fund on outstanding freshwater bodies (OFWB). 

The OFWB project proposed to develop clear and consistent criteria for assessing and identifying outstanding freshwater bodies, to assist with the implementation of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM). It also sought to confirm the intent of the NPSFM OFWB provisions, and carry out a review and stocktake of the existing research and investigations on outstanding values that has occurred over the last 40 years, identifying the best approaches.

Project Background

The 2014 National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM) requires regional councils to protect the significant values of outstanding freshwater bodies. However it stops short of providing a definition around what constitutes outstanding characteristics, features or values. This contributes to ambiguity around when a water body should be regarded as outstanding.

This project was initiated to provide better guidance for regional councils, by defining criteria and a methodology that could be used to identify outstanding freshwater bodies across the New Zealand. The project aimed to reduce debate on what ‘outstanding’ means for communities involved in freshwater planning, and offer a consistent approach that could be used throughout the country.

Project Outputs

While the project successfully made some conclusions around the intent of the NPSFM’s outstanding freshwater body provisions, the project was ultimately not successful in developing a full set of criteria and thresholds for identifying outstanding freshwater bodies across New Zealand. 

Notwithstanding, the project found a number of previously accepted criteria and thresholds used in water conservation order decisions and the Ramsar site criteria which have been used in the past and accepted as outstanding for a number of value sets. The final project report discusses these findings in detail.

The key conclusions from the project are as follows:

a)   The NPSFM intended that only a small number of water bodies be identified as OFWB across the country.

b)   Being outstanding is a high test.  The term ‘outstanding’ distinguishes something from others based on its exceptional qualities and is typically used to describe the ‘best of the best’.

c)    The ‘outstanding’ thresholds developed for each value set should be extremely high. For example, criteria to identify OFWB should be similar to that of a Water Conservation Order.

d)   A freshwater body needs to have at least one outstanding characteristic before it can be classified as outstanding under the NPSFM.

e)   Once a waterbody has been identified as an OFWB the NPSFM protects all the water body's significant values, not only the value(s) which made it outstanding.

f)    Outstanding and significant values are not the same. An outstanding value has a higher threshold than a significant value. An outstanding value will always be significant, but a significant value will not necessarily be outstanding.

g)   The NPSFM did not intend for economic and consumptive use values (e.g. tourism, irrigation, energy generation, water storage, stormwater disposal, water supply values etc.) to be classed as outstanding values under the NPSFM OFWB provisions.

Final Project Report

The final project report was completed on 23 May 2017.


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