Major water users must pay - opposition

Last updated 08:13 16/11/2012

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Opposition parties are urging the Government to establish a regime to charge major fresh water users such as farmers.

The Land and Water Forum yesterday released its third and final report into how fresh water should be used and allocated.

The group of more than 60 organisations has been looking at the issue since 2009 but failed to reach a consensus on charging commercial water users.

Primary Industries Minister David Carter said the report provided a "solid foundation" on how water could be better allocated for high-value use, and how councils and communities could actively manage water quality in their areas. It also called for clearer accountabilities for resource managers and users.

Labour's Environment spokesperson Grant Robertson said the report did not explicitly advocate resource rentals for water, but allowed for a regime that would see a "fair price" paid by major users.

Labour wanted such a regime developed in consultation with relevant parties.

“The ball is now firmly in the Government's court."

The Government must not continue its "stony silence" which met the forum's second report, he said.

“Its recent actions in abandoning our commitments to climate change and ignoring reports on green growth do not bode well, however."

The Greens said the other "glaring omission" in the report was the lack of national environmental standards for water.

Its water spokesperson Eugenie Sage said such standards were essential to determine controls on land use and limit how much nutrient and other pollutants could go into waterways.

“Our freshwater is in crisis. More than half of our monitored rivers are unsafe for swimming, one-third of our lakes are unhealthy and two-thirds of our native freshwater fish are at risk or threatened with extinction."

New Zealand needed to start charging for the commercial use of water such as intensive farming, she said.

"That money could be used to pay for clean-up initiatives. A charge on irrigation water is an effective price signal to more efficiently allocate a scarce resource."

The report's suggestion to create a market for water rights by making them tradeable would just further complicate water management, Sage said.

"It could result in 'water barons' - a few companies or wealthy individuals - locking up resources with no benefits to river flows or water quality."

Carter said the Government would now consider the report which would feed into its fresh water reform programme.

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