Most landowners will be affected by new freshwater regulations being finalised by the Ministry for the Environment.
Details are still being finalised on timing, which will govern whether the changes will be felt by farmers as a tsunami or a surfable wave.
Either way it is clear the new regional freshwater farm plans being introduced by the Ministry for the Environment will represent a major shift to the way farms are regulated.
Highlighting the increasing focus on water quality was the recent Freshwater Fish field day at McLean Road, Waipu, where local farmers and landowners gathered to see how native fish and invertebrates are faring in the tributaries in the hills between the Brynderwyns and Bream Bay.
One of the organisers, Lydia Draper, said the field day was held to encourage landowners to find out more about the native fish in our waterways and to pick up simple tips and techniques for habitat restoration, along with local support and advice.
Landowner Peter Gibbs, who provided access to the Waionehu Stream for the field day, said he was encouraged by the amount of interest in the water quality issue.
"We are just lifestyle block owners running a few alpacas and some chooks and looking after quite a bit of native bush.
"We are doing our best and it was quite heartening to see we are not on our own. I was really encouraged by the amount of energy and all the different groups attending and offering to share their knowledge.
"It was also really encouraging to see the amount of life in the stream. We are a long way from the ocean but there were lots of eels, whitebait, bullies and other wildlife," Gibbs said.
Draper said the event was organised by Piroa-Brynderwyns Landcare Group, Fonterra, Patuharakeke, Whitebait Connection, New Zealand Landcare Trust and Waipu Waters.
The Healthy Waterways project had recently been added to the 10-year strategic plan for restoration within the Piroa Brynderwyns High Value Area, funded largely by the Northland Regional Council.
"We are hoping local farmers will form catchment groups to take the project further," she said.
Northland Regional Council land programme manager Ruben Wylie said the Government has introduced a series of resource management changes intended to bring about improvements in freshwater quality and the new freshwater farm plan regulations were part of the toolbox.
"For landowners and farmers, these new regulations are a big change and, once the regulations are confirmed, we will be looking into ways we can support them as they get to grips with what is required," Wylie said.
Most landowners would be affected, including anyone owning 20 hectares or more in arable or pastoral use, or five hectares or more in horticultural use.
Wylie said the new part of the Resource Management Act would place the requirement on landowners to draw up freshwater farm plans at their cost.
These would have to be certified and they would also have to be audited over time to make sure the landowner was adhering to the planned timeframe and implementing its mitigation measures to improve water quality.
Wylie said while the regulations required a certification process, the accreditation process to become a certifier has not yet been established by the Ministry for the Environment.
"We are anticipating the phasing in of freshwater farm plans will take into account the timeframes required to establish a pool of certifiers needed to support the certification process.
"Once the regulations come out later this year, we can expect to have a better understanding around some of the unknowns, particularly how the requirements will be phased in and how the regulations will interact with all the other changes affecting freshwater.
"The NRC's role will be to appoint certifiers and auditors, administer freshwater farm plans, supply relevant information to farmers, and to act as regulatory authority if the plans are not followed."
Wylie said the NRC's farm environment plans set out a long term plan identifying options available to farmers to bring about improved environmental outcomes, and he could see the freshwater farm plans working in a similar way. However, an important difference was that the new farm plans would include actions that farmers would be required to complete within the timeframes specified by the plans.
The first freshwater farm plans are likely to be required once the regulations are in effect later this year. This timeline had initially been set for the middle of this year, but had now been stretched out to later in the year.
Farmers and growers should continue to use any existing farm environment plans to manage environmental risks until the freshwater farm plan system applies to their farm, Wylie said.