Outrage at plan to sell 40 billion litres of Canty water, but dairy farms use more

A premises in the Ashburton Business Estate, where the Ashburton District Council is in the process of allowing a ...
WAYNNE WILLIAMS

A premises in the Ashburton Business Estate, where the Ashburton District Council is in the process of allowing a bottled water company to extract 40 billion litres of water.

Critics have slated a plan to sell Canterbury water rights to a bottled water supplier, but the average dairy farm uses more.

News the Ashburton District Council is selling the right to extract 40 billion litres of pure, artesian water from aquifers under the drought-prone town to the company has sparked public outrage.

The consent, which comes with a section the council is selling for an undisclosed sum, allows the holder to take 45 litres of water a second. It expires in 2046. 

The council had refused to publicise information about the deal, and continued to stonewall inquiries on Monday. 

READ MORE: For sale: 40 billion litres of Canterbury's purest water

Readers responded in their hundreds to news of the deal. Most opposed it. 

Ashburton District councillor Ken Cutforth said he made it clear he was opposed to the sale.
SUPPLIED

Ashburton District councillor Ken Cutforth said he made it clear he was opposed to the sale.

District councillor Ken Cutforth broke ranks and said the council should think twice about the sale because people will not "be thanking us in 30 years time ... for allowing people to almost suck water out with impunity".

Green Party water spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said the council's deal was "outrageous".

Environment Canterbury consents planning manager Tania Harris said the consent required  the council to "recharge" the groundwater aquifers, in this case using water from a water race.

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Under this dual-consent arrangement, 60 litres per second of water would go into the groundwater aquifer to "offset" the taking of 45 litres per second, she said. 

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"To put the amount in perspective, 45 litres per second would efficiently irrigate a 90ha dairy farm with about 325 cows. The average farm size in Ashburton has about 891 cows," she said. 

Groundwater contamination would be "no more than minor", she said, because the water race was fed by a local river, and the discharge area would be landscaped and planted up. 

"We cannot withdraw the [water take] consent, but we can review it if we believe there are adverse environmental effects."

"If it is not used by September 2019, then the consent lapses."

While the council could transfer the water-take consent, it could not transfer the water discharge permit, so it would need to come to an arrangement with the buyer "as the water take consent can't be used without the other consent".

The deal is understood to be with an overseas company.

SECRECY SURROUNDS DEAL

Cutforth was "sworn to secrecy" due to the commercial sensitivity of the deal, but said his biggest concern was the "environmental sensitivity".

"The domestic wells have gone dry in this community over the last few years and they continue to do so.

"Some people won't see it as a big deal, but I think others that have got some sort of environmental conscience will find it concerning."

Ashburton mayor Angus McKay declined to comment.

"They [councillors] have the right to make any comment they wish."

Delahunty said water was "the most precious resource for the whole country".

"There seems to be a perfect storm here of a failure of democracy, a failure of honouring the Treaty of Waitangi by talking to Ngai Tahu and a failure to protect the environment for future generations.

"Who gave them the right to stop acting in the public good and start acting as a private company themselves?"

"[Water] is under a great deal of stress in the region, it should be protected for locals for future generations and it seems to have been forgotten in this deal."

The area's artesian water is increasingly popular in overseas markets such as China, with its New Zealand origin often featuring in branding and marketing.

Mid-Canterbury provincial president Willy Leferink said there were plenty of positives to be taken from the deal.

"It would create jobs, it would create opportunities for people to be involved. It's work for 30 years."

He said the 45 litres per second was not concerning, considering a normal irrigation system used about 60 litres per second.

The resource consent was approved in 2011 by Environment Canterbury and included a recharge consent, meaning all water taken must be replaced from other sources.

 - Stuff

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