The bottle not the water is the problem
EDITORIAL: New Zealand, as you may have heard, is a pluvial country.
The rain that fair buckets down, albeit not always when and where we want it to, is not a mere resource.
It's more essential than that.
Nationwide protests calling for better freshwater protection throughout the land are justified. But the validity of the message has itself been diluted by a bad call.
READ MORE: Protesters rally to protect fresh water
The voices of reproach have particularly singled out proposals to export glacial water from remote Neil's Beach near Haast.
The implication is that while we're being left parched and polluted by water mismanagement, the Government is meantime smiling upon rapacious commercial greed.
Well, the protesters needed a stronger example than this, even at a merely symbolic level.
Environment Minister Nick Smith was easily able to put together a comprehensive response that left the protest, or this aspect of it anyway, looking silly.
The quantity of water bottled reaches into the billions of litres, yes. Sounds heaps.
But this still totals to one millionth the quantity we use for irrigation, town water supply and industry.
Or 0.0001 percent of the total water extracted, Smith says.
And it would be "odd from a health perspective" to be charging a company bottling water but not a company that extracts water to make fizzy drink or beer . . . or for that matter uses water in the production of wine or milk.
And if the bottlers are foreign owned, what of the much more hefty levels of overseas investment in the dairying and wine industries?
The scale of things meant that at best water export might have been a symbolic part of the protest. But even then it was surely misplaced when the subject was the assailed quality of our water.
Unsugared drinking water is a good thing. Absolutely, we should be drinking much more of it ourselves. And we could be, without turning the land brown and dirty.
There is a significant environmental problem with selling water in plastic bottles, a great number of which don't end up being recycled.
In fact it's a point recently made in a passably funny advertisement for Sodastream which, in a campaign encouraging people to make sparking water at home, riffs on a memorable scene from Game of Thrones.
This time, instead of the haughty villainess Cersei Lannister, it's a supermarket customer buying plastic water bottles who must pass through hissing crowds, followed by a bell-ringing chantress crying "Shame!"
Fair enough. But bottling water is a different environmental issue from that of freshwater quality.