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FAQs - Rules and consent processes

What is Variation 6?

Variation 6 to the Waikato Regional Plan was a plan change process specifically targeted at setting rules relating to water allocation in the Waikato region. It was developed in response to increasing pressure on the water resource in the Waikato region, and the demand for water from different and sometimes competing users.

Variation 6 was a publicly notified plan change, where any group, company or individual had the opportunity to voice an opinion on how the water resource in the Waikato region should be managed. Groups involved in the process included:

  • Fonterra
  • Federated Farmers
  • municipal users (district councils)
  • power generators
  • irrigator groups.

A council decision was released in 2008, but was appealed to the Environment Court by a number of parties. The final version of Variation 6 was released by the Environment Court in November 2011 and became operative in April 2012. The final content was largely agreed by parties to the appeal process. Variation 6 is now formally part of the Waikato Regional Plan, as chapters 3.3 and 3.4.

Why do we need specific water allocation rules?

Water is a finite resource, and is already fully allocated in some places in our region. Pressure on water resources has increased significantly in recent years. An example is the increase in water for pasture irrigation. The area of land being irrigated has nearly doubled in the last 10 years.

Variation 6 seeks to strike a balance between managing the adverse effects of too much ground and surface water use and giving people the ability to use water in an environmentally sustainable way.

Variation 6 sets allocation limits for all rivers and stream, and their minimum flows. These limits are set to sustain aquatic life, recreation, generation for electricity and to enable the allocation of water for users. Methods for identifying pressure on groundwater are also included.

Why do I have to get a consent now? I’ve never needed one before.

The requirement to hold a resource consent for water takes over 15 cubic metres per day is not new. For at least 20 years any water take over 15 cubic metres per day has required a consent.

Water has increasingly become a resource that different parties are trying to access. With the increased pressure on water resources the new water rules in Variation 6 have been developed. The rules affirm the previously existing requirement that resource consent is required for farm dairy shed water takes.

Most existing water takes of less than 15 cubic metres per day do not need a consent, as long as they meet the requirements of a “permitted activity rule” (see FAQ section on ‘Permitted activity water takes’).

What is a ‘grandparented’ water take?

Your grandparented water is the volume of water you were taking prior to 15 October 2008. Most water takes for dairy shed wash down and milk cooling water have been given special provision that, provided certain requirements are met, guarantees (i.e. we can’t decline) a consent for the volume of water they were taking prior to 15 October 2008. This is referred to as a “grandparented” take or “grandparented” volume of water.

This grandparented water was set aside as part of the Environment Court process, which recognised that while many dairy farmers were taking water they were not aware of the need to hold consent. The grandparenting was intended to allow those farmers to obtain legal access to water they had been using.

Why is water grandparented to October 2008?

Through the Environment Court process it was determined that grandparenting should be at some time in the past, and this was chosen as an appropriate date.

The date needed to be one where Waikato Regional Council had clearly signalled its intention that dairy shed water takes required resource consent. Discussion was held with industry representatives about the appropriate date being the release of “Variation 6” (2006) or the date of the council decisions (October 2008). October 2008 was determined to be the more appropriate date to choose.

Why do we only have until 2015 to obtain the grandparented water?

The Government has released the “National Policy Statement – Freshwater Management” which has, in part, a goal to ensure there is no “over-allocation” of our fresh water by 2030. As part of this, Waikato Regional Council is required to implement certain sections of policy by 31 December 2014. This directly influenced the setting of the 2015 date.

It is also appropriate that a deadline for obtaining this grandparented water is set, as these water takes have required consent for a number of years and are therefore currently unauthorised. The deadline provides a three-year window to allow these activities to become authorised. This was considered a reasonable time period by most parties during the Environment Court hearing.

How far back in time can a grandparent right be backdated?

This is not strictly defined in the policies and rules. The only requirement is that the net amount of water is the same or less than was occurring prior to 15 October 2008. This provides Waikato Regional Council some discretion.

In November 2007 Waikato Regional Council released a document that, in part, estimated the volume of water that was being taken for use in the dairy shed.  This was based on data from between 2000 and 2005. This work was used in order to “set aside” the water within current allocation calculators.

Justifying backdating for water taken prior to 2005 could be difficult. However, as there is discretion there, we could consider a case put forward for water use prior to that time.

What is the first in, first served principle for water takes, and why is there a “queue” for water?

Waikato Regional Council has an obligation to ensure a fair and sustainable allocation of surface water resources and to provide users with certainty based on a fair and transparent allocation process.

Where there are applications that, if granted, may result in the full allocation of a surface waterway, we must process them in the order that they were received. This is the “first in, first served” principle, a legal requirement that we must act under. Therefore, as we’re processing applications that may change the allocation status, everyone else forms “the queue” behind them, in the order of receipt.

If an application is granted, and the surface waterbody is then “fully allocated”, we must then assess the following members of the queue under the more stringent activity status (normally non-complying). Should that consent be declined and water is then still available to be allocated out, the next person in the queue is processed first, and so on. 

For farmers that have increased their water takes since October 2008 and are taking from surface water (or from groundwater where there may be an impact on surface water), they may wish to apply sooner rather than later, to secure their place in “the queue” for processing.

If you apply earlier than your catchment date, you can choose to allow a time extension (question 5 on the application form and described below) and we can then allow your application to wait for your catchment processing date. This means you’ll be able to gain some efficiency advantage (therefore potentially cost saving) for the processing of your consent. (See below for more detail on catchment processing).

How does Waikato Regional Council intend to approach farmers?

With up to 3500 dairy farms requiring water take consents, approaching farmers with information and requesting applications systematically will help ensure a smooth process. As such, we’ll be approaching farmers on a catchment-by-catchment basis.

What is a catchment group?

We have divided the Waikato region into six geographical groups, based on surface water catchments. There are roughly even numbers of dairy farms in each group.

Why is the regional council dividing the region into catchment groups?

To provide for more efficient consent processing and to keep costs down.

Why should farmers get involved before their catchment closing date?

To keep the costs for processing their consent to a minimum, make sure the process is as simple as possible, and to have easier access to information in their community.

The cost of your consent is determined by the amount of time the council spends assessing your application. If you apply before your catchment closing date and allow us to extend the processing timeframes, we can add your application to the collection of applications from your catchment group.

After the closing date, we will sort the applications into “bundles” of similar water takes (for example, certain surface water catchments, deep bores, shallow bores).  We will then be able to process that bundle as a whole, therefore spending less time on each application individually. An individual decision and consent will be issued for each applicant.  The final cost of processing the bundle is then split between the members of that bundle. The total cost will depend on how many other applications are in your bundle and the level of technical assessment that is needed.

If you choose to apply outside of your catchment group’s timeframe, you will be assessed individually. All costs associated with assessing your application and technical assessments will sit with your application alone. It therefore may end up being more expensive than if you apply during the catchment group timeframe.

What if I choose to apply for consent before you’re in my catchment?

You can apply for a consent at any stage that you wish. In fact if you have increased your herd size (and therefore your water use in the shed) since October 2008, there may be some benefit in applying earlier and you should consider doing so.

If you apply before we are requesting applications in your catchment group, there are two options for you.

  1. You can choose to either have it processed immediately, in which case you won’t be able to benefit from any efficiency that may be gained from catchment group processing.
  2. Alternatively you can agree to have your your application put “on hold” until it is your catchment’s turn. This way you’ve done your bit of paperwork, and we’ll be back in touch when we’re processing in your catchment. If you’ve increased your water take since 2008 this also secures “your place in the queue” for water under the first in, first served principles (see above). To allow your application to wait, please tick the box under question 5 in the application form.

How do I get a water take consent?

You’ll need to make an application to Waikato Regional Council.

We’ve developed specific forms and information to make this process easier for you. Click here, or phone 0800 800 402.

You can apply at any time, however we’ll be coming to specific catchments over time seeking consents. You may wish to wait to apply until this time, as if we’re able to process your application at the same time as others it may work out much cheaper for you.

How much will this cost me?

All consents are charged on an “actual time spent” basis.

A simple consent process where the application can be processed with a number of similar applications is not expected to cost more than about $1000 and may be less than this. If there are complicating factors or if the application needs to be processed on a stand-alone basis, the cost is more likely to be $1500 - $3000.

Each consent will attract an annual fee – expect this to be around $350 per year.

Any monitoring that occurs in future will be charged to the consent holder on an “actual time spent” basis.

What are the benefits of holding a consent?

You will have secure legal access to the water necessary for your farming operation. Appropriate management of water allocation ensures that water is available for a range of water users and helps to secure your ongoing water supply as well.

Having a consent for your water take will also aid in any compliance requirements you may have with your dairy supply and for any future sale of your property. A consent to take water is an asset to your farm.

Should I apply for a consent for the stock watering component of my water take at the same time?

Many farms will take water for both shed use and stock watering from the same source (such as a well or stream). 

For most existing stock watering and domestic supply water takes, no consent is required, and rather you are given a special provision under section 14(3)(b) of the Resource Management Act (RMA). Therefore having a consented take and an RMA take from the same source can complicate the way that your water records are kept and audited.

There are three options for dealing with this:

  1. You can obtain a consent for just the shed water and install two meters – one at the source (e.g. well head or stream intake) and one on the pipe into the shed. This means very clearly we can see both what you’re taking from the environment, and what is being used under your consent.
  2. You can obtain a consent for just the shed water and install one meter at the source (e.g. well head or stream intake). We then will have to audit your records bearing in mind the additional water that will be taken for stock. Where the total water use (shed + stock) increases over time, we may need to undertake an audit of your system to ensure shed water use is not increasing.
  3.  You can obtain a consent for both the shed water AND stock/domestic watering needs. This will have a volume limit on it, and we will need to investigate any exceedances. Where exceedances can be shown to be for stock watering only, we are likely to treat that non-compliance as minor, as opposed to a non-compliance in shed water take which may be treated more seriously.

Should I allow Waikato Regional Council to extend processing timeframes?

It is entirely your choice as to whether you allow Waikato Regional Council to extend processing timeframes (question 5 on the application form). However, if you want to benefit from the catchment group processing efficiencies (with potential cost saving) you’ll need to allow a timeframe extension.

If you don’t allow the extension, your application will be processed within 20 working days of receiving the application, so long as you’ve provided all the required details and we don’t need to request further information.

To allow a timeframe extension, simply tick the box on question 5 of the application form.

When should I split my pre- and post- 2008 water takes into separate applications?

Because you are only grandparented for the pre-October 2008 water volume, any additional water you apply to take will need to be assessed under a different rule framework.

If you have increased your dairy shed water requirements since 15 October 2008, you first need to decide whether to:

  •  Apply only for the pre-2008 (grandparented) water volume, and therefore follow the simple dairy shed water take process. If you choose this option you will need to make sure you can operate under the reduced volume of water available to you when the consent is granted. For some, undertaking some water efficiency improvements in your shed may allow you to do this.
  • Apply for both the pre-2008 water volume (simple process) AND the additional water volume (more complex process). If you follow this route, you have another decision to make:
    • Split the applications:
      By doing this, we will initially process the pre-2008 water take volume in the usual “simple process” way. We will then treat your “more complex process” application separately, which may take some time.
    • Process both pre- and post-2008 water takes as one application.
      By doing this, all the water will be assessed under the rules around the “more complex process”. For some situations where there is plenty of water available for allocation, this means the process may be very similar to the “simple process”. However, for those applications in areas that are fully- or over-allocated, the application will be placed “at the back of the queue” for water. These applications may not be processed for a significant period of time. They may be publicly notified when they are processed. There is the potential for these applications to end up in a hearing or at the Environment Court.  There is no guaranteed outcome for these processes, particularly in fully or over-allocated catchments. At worst the applications may be declined in their entirety. There is a chance you will only be granted the pre-2008 water. There is also a chance you will be granted the full volume of water you have requested.

There are pros and cons for each option you consider. By applying for the pre-2008 water only:

  • Waikato Regional Council will be able to process your application reasonably quickly and most likely at a lower cost (particularly if you apply during your catchment phase).
  • You will have the certainty of having access to that pre-2008 volume of water. 
  • The disadvantage is that you will need to work with a lower volume of water.
    By applying for both pre- and post-2008 water, and splitting the applications:
    • Waikato Regional Council will be able to process the pre-2008 water take application reasonably quickly.
    • You will have the certainty of having access to that pre-2008 volume of water.
    • You may gain access to the additional (post-2008) water you need for use in the dairy shed.
    • Two separate processes may incur a higher cost than one process alone.
    • You will be granted two separate consents.

By applying for both pre- and post-2008 water as one application:

  •  If granted, you will have one consent.
  • However the full volume of water is processed based on the most stringent activity status. This means even the grandparented pre-2008 volume is treated the same way as the post-2008 volume. This may result in a complex consent process with an uncertain outcome, depending on your catchment status.
  • If you are in a catchment with water left available to allocate, this option may be a good one for you, as the one consent process is likely to be more cost efficient than two processes.
  • If you are in a fully or over-allocated surface water catchment, you may wish to consider splitting the application or discussing your options with a resource management or environmental consultant.

Do I need to consult with anyone about my consent application?

If your groundwater take is within 100 metres of another bore that you do not own, your water take application will be considered a “discretionary” activity. This means we must consider the effect you have on that nearby bore and the ability of the bore’s owner to continue to take water.

If you obtain written approval from the bore owner, then we don’t need to assess the effect your water take has on that bore. This simplifies the process and helps to reduce costs. If the bore owner is also a dairy farmer who requires consent for his bore water take, he will also need to consult with you.

If there are any other parties that you consider will be affected by your application, you may wish to consult with these parties to see what their views are. Under the RMA there is no requirement to consult with potentially affected parties, but you may find that discussing your intention to take water with them will be useful to you both.

Volumes and herd sizes

How can I provide proof of cow numbers prior to 15 October 2008?

Waikato Regional Council will accept any reasonable document providing proof of cow numbers. However these need to be able to be verified from an external party.

Common documents that provide this proof include:

  • Information from tax records indicating number of milking cows on the property.
  • Herd testing records for the property.
  • Milk supplier confirmation of cow numbers.

With your application please provide a copy of one or more of these documents, and any explanatory notes required. Please note these must provide evidence of cow numbers from BEFORE 15 October 2008. Documents detailing cow numbers for anything other than a short period after this date may be rejected.

If you are providing information that includes any sensitive information (e.g. financial records) that you do not wish to have available in the records held on our file, please block out this information (e.g. a black marker through the financial values) before providing it to us. But make sure you leave in all information about cow numbers and dates.

Where does the 70 litre per cow per day figure come from?

This figure was accepted during the Environment Court process as a reasonable “industry standard” value for the purposes of estimating water use where it was not measured. It is recognised that the actual water use in dairy sheds will vary, some will have lower water use, some higher. If you can provide proof that you were taking a higher volume prior to October 2008, you will likely be granted a higher volume than 70 litres per cow per day. The 70 l/cow/day is based on Waikato Regional Council Technical Report 2007/47: A model for assessing the magnitude of consented surface water use in the Waikato region – which is available to download on our website.

I need more than 70 litres per cow per day in my dairy shed. How can I prove this was what I was taking prior to 15 October 2008? What will Waikato Regional Council accept?

If you can show:

  • what your current peak water use requirements are (i.e. current regular meter readings)
  • proof of your current stock numbers
  • proof of your pre-15 October 2008 stock numbers, and
  • that your shed set-up is the same now as it was prior to 15 October 2008 (i.e. it is the same shed and has the same or improved water using devices),

Waikato Regional Council are likely to accept the above as proof of a higher water use than 70 litres per cow per day, as was existing prior to 15 October 2008.

When assessing whether to accept this evidence, Waikato Regional Council may also consider:

  • whether the volume applied for is within a normal range expected for the type of shed and water using devices (i.e. any water volumes outside of the normal range will be subject to close scrutiny and may require further proof or monitoring requirements)
  • any additional information the farmer may choose to include, such as milk production figures.

How does a farmer future proof their farm requirements?

Understanding your current farm water requirements is the first step. You then will need to obtain a resource consent for your water takes, or understand if you are covered by either the special stock and domestic water provisions (section 14(3)(b) of the RMA) or a permitted activity.

As you look to make changes to practices on your farm, you'll need to identify what your additional water needs may be, and how you might obtain the legal right to take that water. This needs to be early on in your planning.

There may be ways that you can change practices on your farm without requiring extra water, but by instead being more water efficient in the way you use your existing consented water volume. DairyNZ has some excellent resources on smart water use to aid farmers in this area.

I've increased my herd size since 2008 – what does this mean for me?

You are only grandparented for the volume you were taking prior to October 2008. You may need to go through a separate consent process for the increased volume, and the consenting procedure this will follow will depend on the allocation status of your catchment.

If there is water left available in your catchment, you are likely to get consent for this increased volume of water. If the catchment is fully or over-allocated the process will be more involved and you may wish to engage a consultant to help you through it. There is no guarantee you will get consent for this additional water.

What if I want to increase my herd/convert to dairy in future?

You need to consider your water requirements at the early stages of considering any changes to your operation or conversion. Unless you‟re planning a conversion that will use less than 15 cubic metres of water of groundwater per day, you will most likely need a consent for the (increased) water you need for use in the dairy shed, and in some cases for stock watering.

The process for obtaining this consent will depend on the allocation status of your catchment. If there is water left available in your catchment you are likely to get consent for the water. If the catchment is fully or over-allocated the process will be more involved and you may wish to engage a consultant to help you through it. There is no guarantee you will get consent for this water.

I've been told that I'm in an over-allocated catchment and my “new” or increased water take may not get a consent – what other options do I have?

If you can locate someone in your catchment with a consent for water that they do not need (or do not need the full volume of), you may be able to arrange (with their agreement) for a transfer of that water take.

If you have consent but need just a little bit more, it may be worthwhile seeking water use efficiencies in the first instance to see if you can work within your allocated volume.

Will I still be able to take water for my stock to drink and for my house(s) supply? Do I need consent for this?

In most circumstances, you can continue to take the water you need for stock drinking and domestic supply.

The RMA has special provision (called s14(3)(b) takes) for water taken for an individual's reasonable domestic and stock watering requirements. No consent is required for this, as long as there is no adverse effect on the environment. If your take does not cause any adverse effect on the environment then these new water take rules do not impact on your water supply and you can continue taking this water without a consent.

If the stock watering and domestic supply water is from groundwater, it can still rely on the special RMA provision, regardless of the surrounding surface water allocation status, provided there is no adverse effect on the environment.

If the stock watering and domestic supply is from a surface water source, and is in a catchment that is not fully allocated, then it can also continue, provided there is no adverse effect on the environment. If the take is from surface water and the catchment is fully or over-allocated, it can still continue if it was existing prior to the catchment becoming fully allocated OR if it was existing prior to 15 October 2008 if it is unknown when the catchment became fully or overallocated. If you start a new surface water take (i.e. you have converted to dairying) in a fully allocated catchment then you will need consent. Feel free to contact us to discuss when you commenced your take.


I‟m buying or have bought a dairy farm and it doesn‟t have a water take consent. What do these rules mean for me?

The grandparenting relates to what was occurring on that property prior to October 2008, rather than belonging to any owner of that land at the time. Therefore you can still apply for consent for the grandparented water even if you didn‟t own the property in October 2008.

However you will still be required to provide some proof of the cow numbers on the property prior to 2008. The previous owners may be willing to provide you some information to help with this. If you continue to have difficulty finding a way to prove cow numbers, get in touch with us to discuss the matter.

If you are actively purchasing a property, you may wish to speak to your lawyer about the lack of a water take consent, and perhaps consider how you might ensure you can prove 2008 cow numbers/water use.

Where a water take consent is not held, potential purchasers would be wise to ask the vendor what the cow numbers were prior to October 2008 versus the current farming practices to ensure that conversion/intensification hasn't occurred since then which may complicate the process for obtaining a water take consent. If an increase has occurred, you may wish to give us a call to discuss water allocation in your area.

Stock and household water takes

Will I still be able to take water for my stock to drink and for my house(s) supply? Do I need consent for this?

Yes, you can continue to take the water you need for stock drinking and domestic supply. The RMA has special provision (called s14(3)(b) takes) for water taken for an individual‟s reasonable domestic and stock watering requirements. No consent is required for this so long as there is no adverse effect on the environment. If your take does not cause any adverse effect on the environment then these new water take rules do not impact on your water supply and you can continue taking this water without a consent. If you have increased or are looking to increase your stock numbers and you take from surface water, call us to talk about it. For some over-allocated or fully allocated catchments any additional takes from surface water may need consent, even if they are for household or stock water.

Should I apply for a consent for the stock watering component of my water take at the same time?

Most stock watering takes do not require resource consent. However when we process your shed water take consent application we can add on a volume for stock watering. In many instances this makes it much easier to understand and record your water take. For a discussion on what the advantages and disadvantages of this are, please see the “Rules and consent processes” FAQ section.