National’s water problem

Written By: - Date published: 8:03 am, March 21st, 2017 - 48 comments
Categories: bill english, Conservation, Economy, Environment, farming, Maori Issues, national, Politics, same old national, treaty settlements, water - Tags:

The focus groups must be speaking loudly and clearly. The Government is slowly changing its previously stated position that no one owns water to maybe foreign corporations should be charged if they extract water for private sale. Although it has put the issue off until after the election no doubt in the hope it can then cobble together a majority and continue to let farmers and foreign corporations pillage our water supplies.

From Radio New Zealand:

Prime Minister Bill English may be open about charging companies for bottling water, but told Morning Report today that nothing would change before the election.

Mr English said there were a lot of difficult questions to be answered before there were any changes made to whether companies are charged for water.

Mr English told Morning Report the government had focused on the top priority, which was raising the quality of water.

“But the business of how you actually overturn a century or so, or more, of the law that no-one owns the water and no-one actually pays for the water – they might pay for the use of it or the facilities or the infrastructure – there are a lot of questions there that have to be answered.”

Mr English said that after decades of talk about the ownership of the country’s water, a “systematic way of dealing with it” was needed, and that would not happen before the country went to the polls.

“Our common law has been ‘no-one owns the water’, it’s been pretty critical to New Zealanders’ perception of how they can use it, access it, and so on, and then the tricky bit of who pays for what.”

The government’s position is bizarre.  It claims that water is not owned by anyone but only so that it can maximise private use of it by farmers and export companies such as Oravida which has strong links to National and is a generous donor to National’s coffers.  The analysis neatly sidesteps the issue of water allocation as well as water quality.

And the Government has already investigated the issue.  It published a discussion paper in 2012 and the answer was that the issue was too difficult.  Again from Radio New Zealand:

The government’s Land and Water Forum discussed the question of taxing water in 2012, but no resolution was reached and no recommendations made.

In a report it said “some members strenuously opposed any concept of charging or taxing for the use of fresh water”, while others maintained “there were valid reasons for charging because of the community benefits, and for efficiency reasons.”

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said the forum did not reach a consensus, and nothing would change with the advisory group investigation.

“I’m all for consultation etcetera, but if it’s not working then it is time for leadership and I think the reason the prime minister has passed the buck is that it doesn’t want to deal with the Treaty of Waitangi issues around what happens to water and who owns it,” she said.

The water issue is multi faceted and raises all sorts of interesting issues and potential pitfalls for the Government.

There is the issue of water rights under the Treaty of Waitangi.  In my mind it is clear that water is a taonga that should have been protected by article two of the Treaty of Waitangi.  The Waitangi Tribunal seems to think so.  I always thought the claim was very sound.  The Government refused to accept this however.

There is also the issue surrounding the cleanliness of our rivers.  They are in an appalling state and Nick Smith’s sleight of hand in trying to suggest that a long term plan to improve water quality that relied in the acceptable quality being degraded has gone down like a proverbial cup of Canterbury water.  Saying that a river should be “wadeable” as opposed to “swimmable” and then refining “wadeable” to mean “swimmable” takes a great amount of chutzpah.

And there is the issue that overseas corporations like Oravida are paying peanuts for local fresh water and selling it at considerable profit.  Some of those profits have ended up in donations made to the National Party.  And Judith Collins links to Oravida provides an extra amount of unavoidable eyebrow raising.

All these issues intersect and the unfortunate thing for the Government is that it is on the wrong side of each of them.  To improve water quality and the health of waterways some sort of regulation of water use will be required.  And foreign corporations should pay a fair price for the ability to profit from what remains of our clean and green waterways.

This Government is usually keen for the invisible hand of the market to provide the necessary discipline.  But this time things are different.  Bill English thinks that it is too hard to work out who owns water, therefore nothing will be done.

Is this government bereft of intellectual grunt to work out a solution to the problem of allocation, afraid to offend its corporate and farming supporters by either pricing the use of water or taking steps to stop our rivers from being used as open sewers, or indifferent to rights of Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi to clearly what is a Taonga.

Or is it all three?

The Government’s timidity/indifference/lack of intellectual firepower means that this issue is going to hurt it.  As it should.

48 comments on “National’s water problem”

  1. The amount of water provided to a household is regulated, by a clever mechanism called a tap. The water available to agencies wishing to sell water overseas should also be regulated by a clever mechanism; price. A consent to extract is not a tap. It’s a license to exploit.

  2. dv 2

    Oravita are already paying $50,000 for the water they take!!!

    • One Anonymous Bloke 2.1

      [citation needed]

      Oravida pays about $500 a year to draw up to 400,000 litres of water a day from the Otakiri Aquifer in Bay of Plenty…sales of $233 million a year.

    • Cinny 2.2

      A $50k donation to the National Party lolz

    • One Anonymous Bloke 2.3

      Ah, I was forgetting Cabinet Club 🙂

    • greywarshark 2.4

      dv short for divvy?

    • Sooooo…. a bit like paying a few blankets and rifles to the Sioux for being able to mine millions of dollars worth of gold in the Black hills. And the US govt had made a treaty that that area was elusively the land of the Sioux and no white settlers could ever buy land there.

      Skip forward to 2017 , and we have the same sort of situation , just exchange the Sioux for the NZ public.

      • greywarshark 2.5.1

        Wild Katipo
        I liked your typo. Very classy.
        And the US govt had made a treaty that that area was elusively the land of the Sioux and no white settlers could ever buy land there.

        I’m guessing that was meant to be exclusively but instead you put an apt Freudian slip.

  3. Ad 3

    +100 Mickey. I sketched a couple of these points yesterday.

    It’s a really interesting set of policy quandaries for a future Labour-Greens-NZFirst government as well.

    Inclusion of a NZFirst coalition partner will rule out any specific carve-outs for Treaty of Waitangi rights to water.

    But this is one area where it would be foolish for the prospective coalition partners to try and come to a united position before the election; way, way too tricky.

    Personally so long as there was a pricing regime that benefited locals, I’m fine with water being exported.

    There are plenty of our beer companies and milk companies who could look again at the costs, capital, commercial and legal and trade risks, supply chain, producer risks, environmental constraints, regulations, labour, and effort at adding value to water through their many water value-adds, only to go way back to basics and find that it’s simply better sense to forget all of that and export the raw material: water.

    • mickysavage 3.1

      Thanks.

      I mention the treaty issues because they are important for MP National relationships not to mention deeply upsetting to National’s redneck sector.

      Not easily resolved …

      • WILD KATIPO 3.1.2

        Is it not that the NZ govt , thus the NZ public , … owns all mineral rights above / under the earth and as far out as the 200 K exclusion zone from our shores?

        Do we not have a method where citizens are billed for water – particularly in our city’s?

        They’re called councils and we pay a water bill for maintenance and upkeep. It used to be the ARA / Auckland council was the administer of water . Now as far as I know private company’s are involved in doing the charging for water use.

        And if that be so , … that ultimately the NZ citizen owns the water and that ownership is represented by our govt , … then where is the issue?

        We can do as we please in how we decide to allocate / deny access to or sell that water to foreign company’s – or indeed any other NZ company that wishes to sell off our resources offshore.

        We are talking commercial use and extraction of our natural resources . And because it is commercial use , – this or any other govt has it in their power to place a surcharge on any extraction of that natural resource for commercial gain. Particularly by foreign owned company’s.

        And this govt knows it.

        Foreign company’s don’t get to have a say in how we decide to allocate our natural resources – we do .

        Not them.

        It would be simple enough that ANY natural resources being extracted by a foreign company or a NZ company / consortium onselling those resources offshore is subject to an immediate surcharge.

        And as for genuine NZ farmers – we still make the rules – and can have concessionary rates if they comply with environmental specifications. And if they are a foreign owned company then we can shamelessly charge em more for the privilege of doing so.

        And that’s how a responsible govt would act.

        Unlike the current one that only has their rich company buddies getting away scot free with pillaging our natural resources.

        • Draco T Bastard 3.1.2.1

          +111

          Exactly. This government is just making up excuses to continue to allow the country to be ripped off by business including the farmers.

  4. halfcrown 4

    DV @ 8.41 am

    Enlighten me. What makes up the $50000 Oravita has to pay, and how many litres do they extract?

  5. roy cartland 5

    Simple. Water extraction has a minimum $1 per litre levy for commercial purposes.

    That would fund all the costs of river cleaning and maintenance, and more.

    And if it costs $40 for a litre of milk, farmers can get a return of 90c for every litre of measurably pristine water they return to the waterways after it has irrigated the field and passed through the cow. Farmers who generate more, get more back. Farmers who purely just take the piss, lose out. (The missing 10c in the equation funds the cost of water testing.)

    Wine growers, milk producers, cola bottlers should all pay. If they go bust, tough. They had their chance.

    • Tricldrown 5.1

      If it is a reasonable charge per litre and money went into cleaning up our waterways no one would complain.
      Outlandish charges suggested by some are playing into Nationals spin doctors hands.

      • roy cartland 5.1.1

        What’s unreasonable? You get it back if you give it back. ‘Spin’ is as a tax on looters.

        • Wayne 5.1.1.1

          roy

          $1.00 per litre is surely in jest. It would mean the cost of virtually every beverage increases by a $1.00 for the water in the beverage alone, much less used in the general process, cleaning, rinsing etc, etc.

          You need to spend more time thinking the issue through.

          • roy cartland 5.1.1.1.1

            And you might spend more time thinking about the actual cost of what you’re drinking when you buy something you actually don’t need.
            Imagine if there actually was a tax that high – it’s not above the brilliant minds of farmers to invent another way to harvest water that isn’t just looting.

            As for cleaning and rinsing, is it really beyond kiwi intelligence to invent a way to purify waste-water to return to the river and gain the kickback?

          • greywarshark 5.1.1.1.2

            Wayne
            I think that would reflect the true value of water which actually is priceless.
            But we have to try to put a price that shows we understand the basis of our economy and human and all life.

            • roy cartland 5.1.1.1.2.1

              Even simpler Wayne – prove you’re sustainable and you get your fee waived. Perhaps you’ve developed a rainwater trap somewhere to offset your extraction cost. It’s not like I like this situation – it has to happen sooner or later.

              • greywarshark

                Is it true that in a crisis people could trap condensation runoff from putting clear plastic over containers of urine standing in the sun? It might be useful to know this trick, it it works.

                • roy cartland

                  Why? Is water really at that crisis level down there? If so, it’s worse than we thought. Try it, I’m sure the animals wouldn’t mind much.

                  • greywarshark

                    I am thinking of humans actually. And it would be pure, enough to drink. And better quality than the bore water many NZ farmers are having to put up with. Don’t fancy it myself, the smell for instance, but thought if you are interested in potable water, you may have heard of it being used by trampers, refugees, Mexicans in the desert etc.

                    • roy cartland

                      But why rush straight to an unpalatable method as if there aren’t several others? Such as purification machines, riparian/wetland filters, monsoon hillside traps etc.

                      Refined greywater would be fine for pastures and the animals. If it can’t be refined, they pay. And those who need to drink bottled water for ‘lifestyle’ reasons can pay too.

                      As I said simple.

    • Spectator 5.2

      “Simple. Water extraction has a minimum $1 per litre levy for commercial purposes.”

      There are about 30 billion m3 of water extracted each year.

      A buck a liter would be $30,000,000,000,000 per year in revenue.

      Winner!

      • roy cartland 5.2.1

        And those smart and unscrupulous enough, like Oravida, are taking full advantage.

  6. greywarshark 6

    Who are the people in the image? I can recognise Collins looking happy, who is the old white guy next to her, and the tanned one on the right with the blue tie? And are the others Chinese, and who are resident NZs or citizens and who are visiting business people soaking up our water not yet filthied?

  7. Ad 7

    OMG Federated Farmers just came out saying that large purchases of water rights from foreigners should go through the Overseas Investment Office:

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/BU1703/S00636/feds-says-get-oio-approval-for-foreign-water-buyers.htm

    Not that the OIO does that much under its current formation.

    Still, from the Feds, nearly fell off my chair.

    • greywarshark 7.1

      Watch out, I don’t know if ACC would cover that.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 7.2

      Combine a dogwhistle against “foreigners” with the implication that farmers want the government to do something about water, and a shot across National’s bows with support for NZ1st.

      Clever politics. Now Minister, I’ve paid to talk to you and I want a dam.

  8. greywarshark 8

    Radionz this morning – this has probably been fully covered above in the topic summary but I am just adding this to be sure.

    RadioNZ
    business environment
    9:09 am today
    NZ reaching environmental limits: OECD report
    From Nine To Noon, 9:09 am today Listen duration 10′ :13″
    http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=201837386

    A new OECD report says New Zealand has maxed out economic growth from its natural resources. The Environmental Performance Review suggests the government’s business growth agenda, which is to double exports to 40% of GDP by 2025, is at odds with the limits on natural resources. Kathryn Ryan talks with environmental analyst and author, Dr Marie Brown.

    And in the same morning slot is an example of our overweening ambitions, our inability to attend to rational behaviour limits, our constant desire to expand beyond reasonable limits, our curiosity, and our unconcern with stark reality even when we know that we face hugely damaging results from our behaviour: –
    Obsession with Mars and outer space.

    science
    10:13 am today
    Mathematical probability of water on Mars
    From Nine To Noon, 10:13 am today
    Listen duration 28′ :13″
    If you are curious, look up the link yourself!)

    Gabor Domokos is the pioneering Hungarian mathematician and engineer who calculated that water must once have flowed on Mars. He is a Professor of Mechanics Materials and Structures at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics.He is currently in New Zealand and he will give a public lecture at the University of Auckland later today about Pebbles on Mars, and also about the new shape he discovered, the Gomboc.

  9. SpaceMonkey 9

    As usual with any major issues, looks like National will leave this one to a Labour-led Government to sort out. Then, should the day come that National are back in Government, they won’t change a thing… ok, well maybe they’ll tinker just to fuck it up enough.

  10. Lara 10

    We are told that this National government is better for the country because they understand business, and they’ll run the government like a business. Which is supposed to be a good thing.

    Yet here they are completely and utterly asleep at the wheel making the WORST business decision for NZ Inc they could possibly make.

    Water is the new Oil. We happen to be in the enviable position of having lots of it, and the cleanest too. It’s incredibly valuable, and will only become more valuable.

    Yet this idiot government is letting foreign owned corporations come and take it for peanuts. For almost nothing. For the cost of a little paperwork.

    This is what a good business approach for NZ Inc would be:

    Halt the sale of ALL water immediately to non NZ citizens or non NZ owned companies. All water is owned by NZ government. Remove all foreign companies who take our water from NZ.

    Set up bottling plants employing NZers, bottle and sell our water overseas*. Limit the amount we’re selling and exporting to ensure a sustainable supply. Profits all go into the consolidated fund.

    There’s your comfortable UBI folks. We could all retire tomorrow and be one of the richest people on the face of the planet. We could all be paid via this water like the Saudi’s pay their citizens, or Brunei pay theirs via oil profits.

    To let this opportunity slip away is amazingly stupid, incompetent, criminal. This lot have no clue about business. They need to go.

    *I’m aware this is a horrible idea for the environment; plastic bottles, oil consumption in transport… but I’m looking at it from a business perspective not an environmental one.

  11. patricia 11

    If nobody owns the water and nobody in NZ pays for water (according to Mr English) why does Watercare send me a monthly bill for all the water I have used ? Not to mention the wastewater which is even dearer than the water coming in.

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