The Government is proposing a new national environmental standard for freshwater resources which it says will be like a regulation on its use.
Environment Minister Trevor Mallard said last night there were increasing demands on water and it had to be managed in a sustainable way.
"The proposed standard, which will act like a regulation, will help us do this by ensuring greater consistency in the way demands on water are managed," he said.
"If the levels of rivers, groundwater systems, lakes and wetlands run too low it can put fish and plant life at risk."
The proposal will be released for public discussion on March 29.
Mr Mallard said it would involve regional councils putting in place processes to assess the effects of taking water from rivers, lakes or groundwater systems.