If nobody owns water, what is the debate about?

…It follows that if no-one owns the water, those hotly divisive Iwi vs Kiwi debates about ownership are irrelevant. Instead, the question turns upon use rights, and how these can best be managed, in the interests of waterways and people alike.

Many are suggesting pricing as a better way of managing water. Where the use of water leads to private benefit – for irrigators, bottling companies, electricity generators, other commercial users or households, for example, that may well apply.

This flow of income, however, must be devoted to both waterways and the community in general. It must not be captured by private interests.

One way of achieving this would be to set up a Waterways Commission, perhaps headed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to ensure its independence from vested interests, funded by user charges for fresh water.

This Commission would be charged with working with communities – iwi and Kiwi side by side – to take care of waterways across New Zealand. It would be informed by both science and tikanga, and tasked to assist iwi, private owners and public bodies in the restoration of their local waterways (aquifers, groundwater, springs, streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, estuaries and harbours).

In this way, everyone gains – both waterways and people. Farmers and other private owners, iwi and community groups alike can seek assistance for bush buffers and catchment plantings, and waterways can be properly managed and restored. There will be significant gains for biodiversity, carbon management, and New Zealand’s reputation as a ‘clean, green’ country. Kiwis and tourists can again enjoy the pleasures of safe swimming, paddling and fishing in our streams, lakes and rivers.

If there are better solutions, now is the time for them to be debated. This should happen out in the open, where ideas are ‘blown about by the wind, and shone on by the sun’ – as on a marae, or in a fair and open democratic society. We all have a stake in our waterways and in the future of our children and grandchildren. We must all have a say in how these controversial matters are resolved.

The problem here is that the issue hasn’t resurfaced due to a concern about conservation and use, but due to an opportunistic political hit by running anti-business, anti-corporate attacks aided and abetted by the Media party. This wasn’t a problem when all the other bottlers were happily carrying on for decades. It wasn’t a problem when our manufacturers and dairy and horticulture sprayed it all about with wild abandon.

No, it’s only become an issue because of Oravida, and Labour’s intention ┬áto make it “smell to high heaven”.

Until we can divorce the politics from the argument, I’m sorry to say that any debate on clean waterways, efficient use and conservation will be captured by those who have political motives.


–┬áProfessor Dame Anne Salmond, NZ Herald


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • Ruahine

    Tell me again how much Lion breweries paid for ‘their’ water when situated in Khyber Pass Road?

  • ex-JAFA

    Professor Salmond’s proposal sounds like extra bureaucracy and racism to me. Neither are cheap or convivial. The “independence from vested interests” sounds exactly like interference from vested interests… just not commercial ones, which already have the greatest motive to care for it.

    As long as nobody owns water and nature continues to deliver it from the skies, I don’t see any need to even discuss measures to “manage” it.

    • Rick H

      Yes, how many times in that small article is the word “iwi” written?
      Seeing that “Iwi” is “Kiwi” – why bother writing either word?
      Unless she still believes NZ is an apartheid Country.

      • OneTrack

        She thinks it should be.

  • one for the road

    The media are only telling 10% of the story, they fail to mention all the existing and previous businesses that have had access to water over the last 100+ years or so… This is just ridiculous.. Moving right along….

  • Merv

    On our 116Ha farm with an average annual rainfall of 1520mm, about 1,760 million litres of water falls per year as rain – about 4.8 million litres per day. Who owns this water?
    We use the equivalent of 1% of this water for stock, houses & cowshed. At a guess I’d say another 4% goes into growing grass. Who should we pay for this 5% of water that falls on our farm?

    • Rick H

      Absolutely Zero, Merv.
      No infrastructure except for what nature provided.

      The only issue of “payment for water” must lie exclusively in any infrastructure needed to move it to a different place; i.e., dams / reservoirs, piping, pumps etc.

    • Possum

      Merv, they haven’t thought of a way of taxing rain yet, but if you use 5% of it, and allow a bit for evaporation, you will find yourself charged for discharging the other 90% or so into waterways or groundwater. The government’s fresh water consultation (closed last Friday) lays out a complicated co governance arrangement between regional councils and iwi under the RMA. Better start saving up for that koha or write to your MP.

    • ex-JAFA

      And who can you charge for the catchment, temporary storage and passage of the other 95%?

      • Once it hits international waters, the UN?

        • sheppy

          Maybe that’s their next target to augment the climate taxes

    • Urbanviper

      Irony being the left wing are paranoid that with the privatization of water worldwide there are rumours that people won’t even be able to use grey water, water that has fallen on their own land, to water their crops and use for residential purposes. I kid you not. Google it. Yet these people are now all out to make sure evil corporations can’t use the water on their land for commercial gain. A remarkable double standard on property rights.

  • Backdoor

    The water commission is a great idea. The unemployed in Auckland can build the fences and plant the buffers between the waterways and the farms. A good “working for the Dole” initiative.

  • Urbanviper

    This whole argument could just as easily have been about fishing quotas, the ‘bounty of our ocean’ sold to [dirty] foreigners [with chinky sounding names], and all they need is a quota, not a fee per fish. Or about forestry, where landowners can use our fertile soil, a taonga from times past, to grow trees and cut them down, only to sell them to [dirty] foreigners [with chinky sounding names], and no fee per tree cut down!

    • Rick H

      And these forestry owners suck up our “naughty” carbon dioxide (without which in the air we would all be dead) so it should be the forest owners paying the carbon taxes, back to us emitters.

  • KGB

    Why wasn’t there an outcry when the Russian bought Waiwera? Or the 2 Chinese bottling plants in south Auckland?
    Instead of running around complaining about the $500pa ‘take consent’ they should look at what it really costs to produce bottled water.
    Bottling Plants are costly to build and staff. Billions of litres is exported every year in lined containers to be bottled cheaply on arrival.
    It’s only a problem now because iwi want a cut, and the opposition have the perfect name to blame.

  • Badmac

    Hydro power stations don’t consume water, they just use it to expose gravity (potential energy into kinetic energy). The exact same quantity of water that leaves the lake enters the river at the same quality (or slightly better if you consider the airation that occurs allowing trapped gasses (Sulfur dioxide, etc) to escape.

    The cost of the equipment to harness the gravitational energy is paid for by the consumer. The conductor (water) is provided by the sun (evaporation in oceans->clouds->wind->rain->downhill flow to the ocean->sun evaporation etc). Natures ultimate solar energy cycle proving clean green non polluting energy

    So who gets paid for the water? It’s not owned by anyone, it’s provided by nature. If it was being consumed (ie less leaves than enters, or is being polluted, more leaves than enters) then there is a case for charging. Bottled water, irrigation, industrial discharges, sewerage etc.

    • Urbanviper

      Yes I suggest the largest bills would not be to farmers or power companies (who merely borrow the water) but by councils who pump it up and feed it to their residents to be turned into urine. So unless the ‘owner’ is the local council rather than the government then we can expect rates to go up. Actually regardless they’ll go up. But people haven’t latched on to this yet.

    • Mighty1

      So who owns the gravity an how much should they pay since it’s all used up by the dam?

      • OneTrack

        Treaty claim forms are being filled out.

  • dumbshit

    Any levy is only going to eventually paid by “joe blogs”, the dude at the end of the line. Another increase in costs, to fund another bloated beaurocracy.

  • rua kenana

    Surely the debate is about who can charge for water, and why they should or shouldn’t do so.
    Governments like and are able to charge for whatever they can. Like fishing quota, suggested land tax, use of the seabed below high tide, and stuff. The question of “ownership”, whatever that means in this context, is irrelevant.
    Government raises money from the people to spend on the people. Isn’t that what government is about?
    That said, there’s lots of things governments do that I don’t like. I get charged (rates) for some of my own land in exchange for zero, yes literally zero, services, even though I’ve for years only been using it in ways according with the public interest. This is totally iniquitous yet where’s the outcry? Some people seem get more uptight about some businesses and others being charged for the use of some publicly owned water, even if that charge is being made for public benefit. I get charged for the public use of my own land. And, despite my name, it’s not Maori land.

  • Doc45

    It takes the Clutha river 1.5 mins to discharge what the bottled industry uses in a year. The woman is nuts. The bottled water industry is a nice little business employs a significant number of people, uses a heap of local services and earns useful foreign exchange. It is not particularly profitable with average earnings on capital. It is doing zero harm to our waterways. Leave well alone.

    Just another attack on business, wealth creation and hard working Kiwis by an academic, out of touch leftie..

  • A Goldie

    Maybe someone should ask her how many millions of litres of water the nursery she us a director of extracts and how much they pay for it

  • rustyjohn58

    My understanding is that in fact no one does “own” the water. However you need a consent from you local Regional Authority to take it out of the ground. To get this consent you need to undertake a series of test for water quality as well as how much water is actually there. So flow test are required and you also need to provide test results and calculations showing other bores from the same aquifer to show you are not taking all the water (ie others can also get some) or that what you want to take will deplete the aquifer. I think this consent can be transferred to other parties and is usually for a fixed period before it needs to be renewed. If you are prepared to put down a bore and pay for all the required studies then you to can apply for a water taking consent on your land privided of course you have some.

    And yes Iwi consultation is also part of the process.