Fight to charge water bottlers heats up
Parties across the political spectrum agree bottling companies should pay for the water they take but the Government is sitting on the fence.
With less than 90 days remaining before polling day, it looks as if water pricing could blow up as a key election issue.
In June, bottling company New Zealand Pure Blue Limited applied for the rights to take 6.9 million litres of water per day from the Waihou River's Blue Spring near Putaruru, South Waikato.
It's the latest chapter infuriating people around the country where billions of litres of water are destined for export and at no cost for the raw product.
* Petition seeking ban on NZ water exports rejected by Environment Minister Nick Smith
* From national park to overseas: Plan to export billions of litres of West Coast water
* Hawke's Bay water bottling plant lies dormant for four months
* Mike Yardley: Who benefits from bottling New Zealand's pristine water?
* For sale: 40 billion litres of Canterbury's purest water
Water New Zealand chief executive John Pfahlert called for a national discussion on a water pricing regime
"The time for taking our water for granted is now over," Pfahlert said. "New Zealand needs a plan and it needs it now."
The group is a wide ranging industry body covering all facets of water management, distribution and commercial operators.
The issue gained heat in April, 2016, when Ashburton District Council offered the rights to 40 billion litres of pure, artesian water to New Zealand Pure Blue Limited, the same company involved in the Putaruru application. The Ashburton deal was later shelved.
In the same month, Oravida was granted the right to draw up to 146 million litres a year, until 2026, from the Otakiri Aquifer in Bay of Plenty.
NZ Pure Blue Springs said the Putaruru operation, the latest in a string of water grabs, will be the "largest production bottling plant in the southern hemisphere, exporting 100 percent of its products" and providing 200 fulltime jobs to the local economy.
Pfahlert said the public is becoming increasingly agitated and the Government needs to act.
"It's an uncomfortable position for the Government to have to think about. They're right, it's complicated and difficult but it doesn't mean they shouldn't start down the route although I don't expect them to do so prior to an election."
Environment Minister Nick Smith said the Government is open to charging as long as it's a fair system. He expects a report by the end of the year from a government technical advisory group looking into water allocation and pricing.
"It would not make sense to charge water bottlers but not an adjacent soft drink or beer company," Smith said.
Local iwi, Raukawa, have been consulted over the NZ Pure Blue application but Raukawa Settlement Trust chair Vanessa Eparaima said all the information will need to be considered before taking a position.
"Our priority will always be on ensuring the protection of the health and well-being of the environment and in this instance Te Puna (the spring)," Eparaima said. "The issue of water extraction is a significant one for not only Raukawa but all in the communities we share."
Green Party co-leader James Shaw was in Waikato on Tuesday. He visited Putaruru and the Waihou River and said companies should pay a resource rental for the water they take.
"The Government has consistently refused to engage on the question of ownership of water and it is very difficult to have a pricing regime when you don't deal with the ownership question," Shaw said.
Bottled water is a fraction of what is taken for irrigation, town supply and industry use.
The country's freshwater resource is 500 trillion litres with 50 trillion litres extracted. Bottled water exports amount to 9 million litres.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters has already called for water exporters to pay a royalty to the Crown with 25 percent of that royalty returned to the region where the water was taken.
"We tabled an amendment in Parliament to the Crown Minerals Act for royalties to be charged on water takes but National opposed it," Peters said.
Labour Party spokesman for water David Parker and United Future leader Hon Peter Dunne both want commercial users to pay.
"We say that when a community resource such as this is being used for commercial profit, it is fair that the public gets a return on it by way of a royalty as we do for oil, gas, coal, and even gravel," Parker said.
Dunne outlined his position in a May edition of his weekly blog which he provided.
"It seems somewhat incongruous that a virtually unregulated and certainly untaxed water export industry is being allowed to develop," Dunne said. "At the very least, there needs to be a coherent royalties regime put in place, akin perhaps to that for oil and gas, to ensure that our water resources are not being just given away."
Water for NZ Pure Blue's bottling plant will be taken from South Waikato District Council's existing pipes but the company intends to build its own infrastructure pipe at the Blue Spring.
Consent is sought for 15 years and, if successful, production would start in February 2019. No date has been set on when a decision will be made.
South Waikato District Council are supportive of potential economic stimulus NZ Pure Blue may provide, but are not willing to comment while the consent process is underway.
According to the application, water flow from the Blue Springs equates to more than 60 million litres per day or 22 billion litres a year.
*Political parties polled for their position on charging for water bottling.
Labour Party spokesman for water David Parker
"All domestic and municipal users of water would be exempt from the royalty, as would stock water users. Royalty revenue would be shared with local councils and iwi.
United Future leader Hon Peter Dunne
"At the very least, there needs to be a coherent royalties regime put in place, akin perhaps to that for oil and gas, to ensure that our water resources are not being just given away."
The Opportunities Party deputy leader Geoff Simmons
"Commercial water users should pay to use a precious and scarce public resource, just like they pay for any other business input."
Green Party co-leader James Shaw
"We should be placing a price on that to encourage efficiency in order to send a signal that it has value."
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters
"We say as a country we own the water and we've got a right, like coal or anything else we're exporting or extracting, to put a royalty on it. For well over a hundred years we've believed as a country that we own the water, in the same way as we own in common the air and the environment which we're in."
Minister for the Environment Nick Smith
"The Government is open to charging water bottling companies but not in isolation from other commercial users."
ACT Party leader David Seymour
"ACT believes that all water rights should be tradeable. This means both foreign and local companies (and not just bottlers) would pay to use water."
Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell
"Current water allocation arrangements which effectively allow water to be used to generate a profit is a form of ownership despite the Government saying that no one owns the water."