The Government has unveiled its plan to improve New Zealand's waterways, promising a "noticeable improvement" in water quality within five years.

But some industry groups are worried about the pace of the plan and how farmers and irrigators will be impacted.

Environment Minister David Parker, along with Minister for Maori Crown Relations Kelvin Davis and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor launched the Government's freshwater working programme in Parliament yesterday.

They are working towards a range of changes, including controls on the excesses of some intensive land use practices, making sure wetlands and estuaries are better protected and ensuring a focus on at-risk catchments to halt the decline.

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The Resource Management Act (RMA) will also be amended within 12 months to enable regional councils to more quickly implement water quality and quantity limits.

"New rules will be in place by 2020 to stop the degradation of freshwater quality – a new National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater Management and a new National Environmental Standard," Parker said.

But Irrigation NZ Chairwoman Nicky Hyslop said 2020 is a long time to wait for policy certainty in this area.

"There are some concerns around whether there will be more changes around current regulations that will mean some of the exciting technology being invested in now to improve environmental footprints may be made redundant."

Federated Farmers water quality spokesman Chris Allen said the five year goal is "really ambitious."

He said in the last 10 years, farmers have come "a huge way" when it comes to water quality and the pace of work has been increasing.

Asked if the five-year target was a lofty goal, Parker said he was "confident within five years we will be seeing measurable progress."

O'Connor said there had been some disagreement between the Government and agricultural groups around the speed of travel.

He said farmers are already "ramping up their game," in terms of contributing to better water quality and have been doing as much as they can, as quickly as they can.

Greenpeace, however, is criticising the Government's "lack of immediate action to stop increases in cow numbers and pollution."

"There are already too many cows for our waterways to cope with. Yet there are new dairy farms being built and existing farms are still adding more cows," Greenpeace freshwater campaigner Gen Toop said.

"The Government needs to ban new dairy farms and end any further livestock intensification immediately."

Green's Co-Leader Marama Davidson said her party was "rapt" by today's announcement, saying it's a major win.

"This is something that the Greens have been working on for all of our existence as a party and we're really proud of the influence [we have had] in making sure we clean up our rivers."

National's Environment spokesman Scott Simpson said the announcement was underwhelming.
"[The] announcement is just another working group that kicks water issues to touch until 2020. Although it is concerning that 'coincidentally' this is when the Government's Tax Working Group proposals of a series of new environmental taxes would take effect."

Parker said the Government will be working with a range of vested interests in establishing its water plan, including environmental NGOs, Maori, farming leaders, scientists and regional council experts.

Public consultation on the programme will begin next year, Parker said.