Bottled water as an export is the most efficient use of the resource

New Zealand has 500 trillion litres of water flowing through our lakes, rivers and aquifers. Each year we extract 10 trillion litres, or 2 per cent. The water shortages we have are in quite defined areas and for only some of the year. NZ has no overall shortage.

The 10 trillion litres of water we extract each year is made up of six trillion for irrigation, two trillion for municipal supplies and two trillion for industry. Three billion litres used for the bottled water industry may sound a lot but it is less than 1 per cent used by industry and 0.004 per cent of the annual resource. The suggestion by some that Mr and Mrs Average Kiwi won’t be able to bathe because of bottled water exports is ridiculous.

Regional councils manage about 20,500 water permits of which 41 are solely for water bottling and a further 30 for a mix of uses, including bottled water. But only 23 of the permits are being used for now, reflecting the fact this is a niche industry. More than a dozen water-bottlers have gone broke. It is a myth that this is an easy industry in which to make lots of money.

The issue of charging for water is quite complex. No one currently pays to take water from a natural water body such as a river, lake or aquifer. The only cost is a fee for the cost of assessing and granting a water permit. Councils charge for domestic water supplies, either through rates or by volume, and that charge covers the filtering, pump stations, piping and treatment of water delivered to homes and businesses.

The notion of charging bottlers for the water they extract is superficially attractive but raises fairness issues.

The only fair charging option would be to charge everyone. I heard one opposition MP call for a uniform charge for all commercial water users of 10c a litre. Kiwis need to appreciate that our major export earners such as horticulture and dairying are water intensive. A litre of milk takes about 250 litres of water to produce so that would be an extra cost of $25 a litre – a cost which would push the price of milk through the roof for consumers and destroy our largest export industry.

The Government is open to modest charges for water users, for the cost of managing water resources. We are proposing as part of our current freshwater reforms to allow councils to charge water users a per-litre levy for the costs of the water quality, monitoring water takes and ensuring compliance, rather than on rates paid by everyone. However, the charge would be for cost recovery only and would not price the natural resource.

Water bottling companies should have to face the same rules and responsibilities for the water they use as other commercial users. There is no case for water bottling companies to face extra costs or bans over and above others. It makes as much sense as targeting bikes over traffic congestion while ignoring cars, buses and trucks.

New Zealanders have nothing to fear from a bottled water export industry. People have called for more diversified exports. If international consumers are prepared to pay for bottled water rather than a product such as milk, beer or fruit juice, which take much more water to produce, we should seize the chance.

This whole thing never was about the water.? It was about envy.? Corporate bashing.? And in the end, this explanation was available fairly early on in the argument, but Labour and the Media Party were exploring the Oravida angle to see if they could get something going against the government.

Just about all the bottled water companies also existed during Labour’s reign of terror.? Of course.


– Nick Smith, via the NZ Herald