Water is an issue that has been hurting this Government. From its expansion of dairying and the destruction of so many of our waterways, to the use of the fast forward fund to provide extra irrigation for Canterbury farmers, to the financial support supplied by water exporting companies such as Oravida to the National Party, to the strange support offered to the Ruataniwha Dam, to water quality problems in Havlock North as well as other areas, and to the refusal to countenance Maori’s very reasonable claim that water is a Taonga under article 2 of the Treaty of Waitangi, to the sleight of hand about what “swimable” means, a lot has been happening.
And there have been some doozie examples of indifferent decision making. Allowing a water exporting company to extract water from a Unesco World Heritage site and lay a pipeline through DOC area which is a sanctuary for New Zealand’s rarest kiwi and potentially forcing their removal takes a lot of chutzpah.
I suspect the water pricing issue is starting to really show up in the Government’s polling. The Government thinks that the issue is too hard to solve. Clearly this is in deference to the views of its farmer supporters who refuse to accept they should pay for water even though there are very strong policy and environmental reasons why this should occur.
But the Herald this morning has provided analysis suggesting that the Government’s approach and pro business attitude means that foreign corporations are paying peanuts for our water and then making huge profits.
From the Herald:
Water bottling companies are paying an average 500 times less than ratepayers for each litre of water they’re allowed to use.
A Herald investigation into water fees set by every regional council around the country found bottlers were charged an average $0.003 – or one third of a cent – per cubic metre of water.
Comparatively, in Auckland, Watercare charges $1.40 per cubic metre (1000 litres) for water piped to houses, while the rest of the country paid an average $1.60 per cubic metre.
“Water companies are getting the same water but paying bugger all for it,” said water campaigner Jen Branje from the Bung the Bore group.
“Why are ratepayers paying for something that corporates are getting almost for free? It’s an unfair equation.”
The approach of Councils is clearly in line with the Government view on water.
The Herald requested consent details from each regional council following nationwide protests in March.
It asked how much water it had allocated to bottling companies, and what annual fees they paid.
The results showed in total, 23 billion litres per year had been allocated for bottling. Not all consents were active or fully in-use.
Water bottlers paid an average $200 per year in fees to council for duties such as consent monitoring or administration.
Because water is considered a public good in New Zealand, councils cannot charge for the water itself, although many of their fees were calculated from volume amounts.
And the amounts are significant:
The amount of water allocated also varied widely- some users were granted 7 million litres per year, while others such as Okuru Enterprises on the West Coast were granted upwards of 900 million litres annually.
Public information showed the average bottling company in New Zealand had a turnover of $1.5 million per year – excluding beverage giants Coca Cola Amatil and Frucor – which both have turnover of around $500 million a year.
Last year, 27 million litres of water were exported to countries including the United States, Germany, Japan and Australia. Water exports are valued at 80c per litre, with a total export value for 2016 of $21.5 million, according to Statistics New Zealand.
The case for charging for the use of water, at least for corporations that make a profit for it, just became stronger.
The Green Party are opposed:
Right now companies can use huge amounts of our water for next to nothing, and make money out of it.
That’s not fair – water is precious, and many of our rivers and aquifers are being polluted and are under stress.
Bill English has tried to dampen public outrage by getting an advisory group to look at it. But he won’t commit to doing anything despite knowing we need to act now.
The Green Party says that if they’re taking it, and they’re profiting from it, they should pay for it!
And they are running a petition which if you want to sign is here.