Proposals to shake up water conservation applications are a win for the private sector and not the environment, according to the Fish and Game Council.
Twenty-three initiatives to improve the management of fresh water were proposed at the weekend, including an overhaul of the Water Conservation Order (WCO) process.
Anybody can apply for a WCO to preserve and protect rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, wetlands or aquifers and over freshwater or geothermal water.
The WCO can stop or restrict a regional council issuing new water and discharge permits and regional and district plans have to be consistent with the provisions of an order.
Fish and Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said the orders were the highest form of protection for rivers in New Zealand.
"They're effectively the national parks of our waterways and they were deliberately established to take primacy over regional plans which are based on a far more multiple use approach for water, and what this proposal does is endeavour to make water conservation orders effectively subservient to those plans."
The government wants to amend the Resource Management Act so that regional planning processes have to be taken into account when applying for a WCO.
And it wants the Environment Minister to be able to delay an application if there will be a conflict with a regional planning process
Mr Johnson said it was a move to make regional plans dominant and remove the primacy of the conservation orders.
"It's been done to really further the interests of the private sector not to further the interests of conservation. That's what's happening here, they're trying to crack open the current protective procedures we have and make them subservient to the more multiple-use approach which would favour agriculture."
An environmental group said the government's water quality initiatives, only targetted the most polluted water catchments.
Environmental Defence Society chief executive Gary Taylor said the initiatives were a step forward.
But he said good management practices should be extended to all waterways.
"We should be looking to the best possible management practices everywhere in the country and right away because it's going to take some time for plans to be changed, for limits to be set and for monitoring to occur."
Mr Taylor said there was still a lot more work to do to protect and manage waterways.
Environment Minister Nick Smith said the primary changes to the WCOs were largely to ensure iwi had more of an involvement and that the government was very committed to making sure that happened.
He said the WCOs were based on out-of-date legislation from the 1980s, and there needed to be better coordination between the conservation orders and water plans.
"The water conservation orders are quite disconnected from the development of water plans in a particular area, this has been a long standing concern of regional councils, we're wanting to get those better linked."
Dr Smith said the proposals were based on recommendations from the Land and Water Forum which Fish and Game chose to pull out of.
He said they were just proposals at the moment and he encouraged people to put in submissions which close in April.