Minister for the Environment David Parker says he will personally feel he has failed if the country's fresh water is not in a better state when he leaves politics than when he entered.
The comments were made on Friday during a keynote address to the New Zealand Planning Institute's annual conference, titled Weaving the Strands, held in Napier.
"By the time I finish politics, if I haven't helped get this problem under control, I'll personally feel that I've failed, so I am pretty determined to give it a push."
He said as a country New Zealand had been aware of the issues around increasing nutrient loads and sediment in waterways since 2004.
"And sadly, that's a decade and a half, since then, that things have been allowed to get a lot worse."
He said it was the birthright of every New Zealander to be able to go to their local swimming hole, put their head under the water and not get sick.
He also spoke about other complexities facing planners in New Zealand, such as the need to balance the environment, the economy and the needs of people, something he balances as both Minister for the Environment and Economic Development.
"One of my responsibilities, I see, is to integrate environmental, social, and economic outcomes."
An example he gave was the housing crisis. While it is vital people in New Zealand have a home to go to, currently a lot of urban development is extending onto prime agricultural and horticultural land.
"I'm troubled by how much of our urban growth is occurring on our irreplaceable, highly productive soils."
He said the Environment Aotearoa: Our Land 2018 report showed around 29 per cent of land used for vegetable production was lost to urban development between 1996 and 2012.
However, he felt New Zealand was primly positioned to solve some of these complex issues.
"If New Zealand can't, then the world won't."