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Government Dialogue Best Practice: New Zealand Freshwater Improvement Fund


The New Zealand Government has committed $100 million over 10 years to the Freshwater Improvement Fund (FIF). The fund is open to all organisations including: local/regional government, iwi (indigenous tribes), NGOs, and community groups. Examples of projects funded through the FIF are explored in this case study.


The New Zealand Government has committed $100 million over 10 years to the Freshwater Improvement Fund (FIF). The fund is administered by the Ministry for the Environment (the Ministry).

The fund supports projects that cost $400,000 or more which will improve the quality and availability of water in our water bodies (lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, and wetlands).

The aim is to make the biggest difference with the available funding. The fund focuses on water bodies in vulnerable catchments that are showing signs of stress but have not yet reached a ‘tipping point’. This is when it becomes more expensive and more difficult to restore these water bodies to good health.

How it works: The fund is open to all organisations including: local/regional government, iwi (indigenous tribes), NGOs, and community groups.

Funding criteria:

  • The project must contribute to improving the management of New Zealand’s fresh water bodies.
  • The project must meet one or more of the following:
  • Achieve demonstrable co-benefits such as:
  •  Improved fresh, estuarine or marine water quality or quantity
  •  Increased biodiversity
  •  Habitat protection
  •  Soil conservation
  •  Improved community outcomes such as recreational opportunities or mahinga kai (indigenous food sources)
  •  Reduction of current or future impacts of climate change
  •  Reduced pressure on urban or rural infrastructure
  • Increase iwi/hapū, community, local government, or industry capability and capacity in relation to fresh water management
  • Establish or enhance collaborative management of fresh water
  • Increase the application of mātauranga (knowledge/wisdom) Māori in fresh water management
  • Include an applied research component that contributes to improved understanding of the impacts of fresh water interventions and their outcomes.
  • The minimum request for funding is $200,000 (excluding GST).
  • The fund will cover a maximum of 50% of the total project cost.
  • The project will be funded for a maximum period of up to five years after which the project objectives will have been achieved or the project will be self-funding.
  • The project must achieve benefits that would not otherwise be realised without the fund or are not more appropriately funded through other sources.
  • The effectiveness of the project and its outcomes will be monitored, evaluated, and reported.
  • An appropriate governance structure in place (or one will be established as part of the project).
  • The applicant must be a legal entity.

Applications that meet the funding criteria are assessed by an independent panel of experts. The panel then makes recommendations to the Minister for the Environment to make the final funding decision. The applicants for the projects we fund are not necessarily aware of what natural capital is by definition but they work toward the restoration of eco-system services and enhancement of the value nature has through the work they undertake. All are encouraged by the Ministry to consider the co- benefits of what their project may be achieving in addition to meeting the central objective of freshwater improvement.

Next Steps:

The government has committed $47 million to 34 projects to date. All funding is subject to deed negotiations and 29 recipients have signed deeds thus far. Five recipients are under-going deed negotiations.

Project Examples:

Project: Wharekopae River Restoration

Recipient: Gisborne District Council

Duration: 5 years

Total Project Cost: $1,717,450.00 – Freshwater Improvement Fund Contribution: $847,450.00

Project Purpose: To improve water quality in the 30 kilometre length of the Wharekopae River so that it consistently meets the swimming-related objectives and targets of the Gisborne Regional Freshwater Plan, and the water quality supports a diverse and healthy abundance of aquatic life.

The river flows through steep hill country farmland behind Poverty Bay and is affected by high E.coli levels. The project will involve stock fencing, installation of water reticulation systems, culverting of stock crossings, riparian and soil conservation plantings.

The river is the most significant freshwater recreational and tourism resource in the Gisborne district. The Rere Rockslide, Rere Falls and Champagne Pools swimming sites are located on the river.

Project: Whakamana te Waituna

Recipient: Southland Regional Council

Duration: 5 years

Total Project Cost: $13,348,200 – Freshwater Improvement Fund Contribution: $6,025,000

Project Purpose: The programme utilises a partnership model to:

• Re-establish a hydrological regime that protects the ecological, cultural, scientific and recreational values associated with Waituna Lagoon’s status (Ramsar site, scientific reserve, taonga of Te Rūnanga o Awarua and Southland)

• Provide alternative land-use options for the land adjacent to the lagoon to improve water quality in the lagoon. Current land use includes dry stock and dairy farming

• Demonstrate the scalability of alternative drainage system design/management and farm system interventions to reduce impacts of ground and surface water contaminants on Waituna Lagoon and its tributaries

• Re-establish Te Rūnanga o Awarua’s connection and role as kaitiaki (guardians)

In order to achieve the above we will purchase land as part of the project. Purchasing parcels of land will enable the land-use to be transitioned to activities that will help improve water quality in the lagoon. The land will be purchased by Environment Southland as part of the Project with ownership likely to be transferred to the Whakamana te Waituna Charitable Trust. The land will be covenanted to protect the Freshwater Improvement Values.

Project: Ngā Kaitiaki o te Awa o Pūniu

Recipient: Pūniu River Care Incorporated

Total Project Cost: $2,084,030.00 – Freshwater Improvement Fund Contribution: $740,995.00

Duration: 5 years

Project Purpose: The project will bring together elements from existing Waikato Regional Council (WRC) systems in partnership with Pūniu River Care to pilot a new implementation model for environmental enhancement work on a priority reach of the Pūniu River, to achieve the following primary outcomes:

1. Stabilising banks, fencing and vegetating the riparian margin along 32km ‘bank length’ of the Pūniu River. This will provide increased shade, shelter and food for native fish with co-benefits for terrestrial biodiversity. This also aims to reduce sediment levels within the river.

2. Beef and cattle are excluded from 32km of the Pūniu River margin. This includes riparian setbacks with up to 160,000 native trees and 500 plus willows planted, and,

3. Increasing the capability of Pūniu River Care and other marae based groups undertaking restoration.

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