The Government is proposing minimum quality objectives for lakes and rivers.
The move is a response to reports done by the collaborative Land and Water Forum in 2010.
Until now, regional councils have been left to make their own plans for improving waterways.
The draft plan sets the first national minimum objectives for the health of the ecosystems and for human contact with freshwater bodies which every council will have to meet.
It has broad support from most groups, though they warn of large gaps in some of the scientific indicators.
Water scientist Mike Joy criticised the plan on Thursday, saying it does not require any monitoring of aquatic life and allows levels of nitrogen so high all the fish would die first.
Environment minister Amy Adams says she hopes the framework will reduce the amount of arguing and litigation over regional plans and resource consent applications.