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Who is buying Canterbury water?

Written By: - Date published: 10:08 am, April 6th, 2016 - 71 comments
Categories: water - Tags: , ,

Key says that no one owns water, but that’s just semantic games, because “water rights” can certainly be sold. Earlier this week – For sale: 40 billion litres of Canterbury’s purest water

A council in the drought-prone Canterbury plains is selling the right to extract 40 billion litres of pure, artesian water to a bottled water supplier.

The Ashburton District Council is selling a section in its business estate, known as Lot 9, for an undisclosed sum. It comes with a valuable resource consent that allows abstraction of water from aquifers beneath the town.

The council has refused to publicise information about the deal, which is understood to be with an overseas company.

It has outraged some residents, who say water is desperately needed locally.

The area’s artesian water is increasingly popular in overseas markets such as China, with its New Zealand origin often featuring in branding and marketing.

The consent allows the holder to take 45 litres of water a second from local aquifers, totalling more than 1.4 billion litres a year.

It expires in 2046, meaning the buyer will gain access to more than 40 billion litres of Ashburton’s pure water.

Last night – Second Canterbury property with water extraction rights up for sale

The extent of New Zealand’s offshore water bottling deals is under scrutiny as it emerges a second consent in drought-prone Canterbury is being advertised to companies.

Several prominent businessmen are linked to the sale of a valuable water consent in Pendarves, near Ashburton.

So who is buying up Canterbury water? As it happens, Oravida is in the bottled water business. Which was probably behind Duncan Garner asking this question:

Stay on it Garner.

71 comments on “Who is buying Canterbury water? ”

  1. Lanthanide 1

    In principle I don’t have a problem with selling these water rights, but:
    1. It must be for a very fair amount of money; the community really needs to benefit from this
    2. Giving a lease out to 2046, when the vagaries of Climate Change are unknown, is completely foolhardy.

    #2 also implies that the costing for #1 is unlikely to properly compensate for future water scarcity, although I guess it’s possible that there could be clauses in the contract to extract more money at future dates based on water scarcity.

    I doubt that any company would only want a 10 year consent, though.

    • greywarshark 1.1

      Good to think about Lanthanide. Bad to sell water obviously, especially with our knowledge today.

      But why wouldn’t a company want a 10 year right. There is money swirling round out there looking for a point it can earth to. 10 years is long enough to make a quick buck and sell it at a profit to someone else. That’s business today, you are thinking of the old days when we had long-term expectations of stability.

  2. Steve Withers 2

    This is possible because the government-lead coup at ECAN.

    • weka 2.1

      Yep. The district council just happens to own the ‘asset’ (could be owned by anyone). It’s the regional council that controls water allocations.

      Democracy abandoned. Nature is a commodity and commodities in NZ are now the purview of John Key’s mates.

      Ashburton District Council need to wake the fuck up too. As do residents. This is basic human necessity, the water of life, and if you give it away now it will be very hard to get back. Time to step up.

  3. saveNZ 3

    Water is a public resource and should be used locally to benefit local business and communities not for private profit! Water rights should also be highly protected and transparent, not sold off secretly by the council with the government body facilitating.

    This is especially relevant as we learn NZ is now mentioned 60 times in the Panama leaks as a tax haven and someone has just said 47 NZ titles alone have been linked back to Mossack Fonseca companies. There is too much corruption and secrecy going on in NZ and we are being robbed in plain sight!

    • Draco T Bastard 3.1

      There is too much corruption and secrecy going on in NZ and we are being robbed in plain sight!


      • Reddelusion 3.1.1

        No Draco people are just been industrious while you sit on your butt and pontificate

        • Draco T Bastard

          No, they’re being corrupt and you’re supporting them.

        • Bill

          ‘Industrious’ can hardly be applied to instances of theft. And that’s essentially what this is. There is no payment for the water, yet the charlatans extract payment from (foreign?) consumers.

          Cunning? Yup. Unconscionable? Yup. Industrious? Not so much.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            (playing Devil’s advocate) I guess the payment is for the delivery of the water.

            However much I like playing Devil’s advocate, this isn’t a game. Those countries whose ruling classes have so degraded their water supply as to make it undrinkable deserve sympathy and a United Nations peacekeeping force to ensure public order while the rule of law is re-established, not bottled water.

            That’s what they deserve. They won’t get it, so I hope they get a gradual and profound revolution instead.

            • Bill

              No. The only payment (according to the Q+A piece I linked earlier) is for the consent to bottle water. A couple of hundred dollars.

              • One Anonymous Bloke

                I (playing Devil’s advocate) mean the payment by the consumers.

                • Bill

                  Yeah…I kind of realised that after the comment was posted.

                  When the gradual and profound revolution unfolds due to our elites having degraded our water supplies, I’m with you on the ‘fuck the bottles’ front.

                  In which case, best we get on with it I guess. 😉

    • Chooky 3.2

      +100 saveNZ

  4. Bill 4


    Orivida (Director Jenny Shipley) – Extracting and selling water from Whakatane

    74 water bottling consents throughout NZ (11 in Canterbury) . No royalties, no nuffin.

    The vid’s just short of seven minutes long. Well worth the watch.

    edit: Probably worth noting, that in spite of the post header, no-one is actually buying water (bar the end consumer). A couple of hundred bucks for a permit and….whoosh.

  5. vto 5

    Add up all the water pulled out of the ground on a daily basis in Canterbury..

    Subtract from that the daily rainfall in the catchment..

    equals a draining water resource…

    There is more water being taken than replenishing. Is the next natural resource disaster looming …….. all the aquifers, charged by milleniums of rainfall, are going to run dry…

    simple maths

    • fender 5.1

      And then the land that was previously held “afloat” subsidies a la Florida etc. and sinkholes swallow anything and everything. Good times.

      • vto 5.1.1


        Living in the area, people in favour of irrigation always say to us things like “it is only being wasted flowing out to sea” or “it is only 5% of what is in the river” or some other such nincompoopity..

        whereas if it is thought about in terms of extraction and replenishment then the equation is in fact very different..

        Clearly the underground aquifers have been loaded up (or ‘charged’) by rainfall over many many centuries. In fact likely since the last ice-age circa 12,000 years ago. It has taken a long time to fill those aquifers.

        The question simply must be – is the rainfall equal to the extraction?

        If not, then the aquifers will run dry.

        I wonder if this has been seriously considered …. hmm, think think think

        • David

          “Clearly the underground aquifers have been loaded up (or ‘charged’) by rainfall over many many centuries. In fact likely since the last ice-age circa 12,000 years ago. It has taken a long time to fill those aquifers.”

          Most bores are extracting from aquifers 20-30m deep, they most certainly are not 12,000 years in the making.

          • lprent

            So what is the replenishment rate? I guess you don’t know?

            At a guess I would say that noone has actually measured it.

            Selfish moran speaks…

          • vto

            Well that makes your point even harder to justify. See question below about amount of rainfall in the relevant catchments…

    • David 5.2

      “Add up all the water pulled out of the ground on a daily basis in Canterbury..

      Subtract from that the daily rainfall in the catchment..

      equals a draining water resource…”

      Not quite. Much of that water is irrigation, which returns to the catchment to a large degree.

      • vto 5.2.1

        Sure, understand that. It would be an interesting equation, and surely one the Ecan maestros will have considered in assessing all these resource consent applications to take water, one would hope ………….

        Or look at an estimate this way…….. all the lowland streams are steadily drying up. That means a net loss between water in and water out. Which also likely means that it will not stop drying up, and it will instead continue at its current rate of drying up….

        Meaning all of the aquifers will eventually run dry

        It really is a simple equation. Which doesn’t seem to have been calculated. Happy to be corrected though …..

      • lprent 5.2.2

        The point about irrigation is to provide water to plants, who largely transpire it into the air. With the prevailing wind, most of it goes out east over the sea. It doesn’t come back within anyone’s lifetime.

        If farmers are using enough water for it to have large amounts hitting ground water 10s or 100s of metres below then they are wasting it.

        You really are a illiterate idiot.

        • David

          Moron, nothing else can describe the ignorance in your post.

          • vto

            Maybe people’s heads are like the aquifers with more draining out than being replenished….

          • lprent

            That probably explains why I have the BSc in earth sciences, and you have no arguments apart from being infantile and stupid.

            • adam

              Sheesh Iprent that old chestnut, were by it’s your hard earned degree up against someone who can regurgitate propaganda.

              Nothing like a pretty poly amateur hour propagandist, to remind us that this government has got into the habit of lying to the people.

        • pat

          “If farmers are using enough water for it to have large amounts hitting ground water 10s or 100s of metres below then they are wasting it.”

          That is true and is the main reason for the environmental change in Canty…the “efficient” extraction and application of water has fundamentally changed the groundwater system here…that and the removal of large areas of mature tree plantings and reduced river flows due to increased extortion which impacts not only the land but the ocean for some considerable distance around the river mouths…unfortunately dairy has moved further and further into the foothills (due to uneconomic returns for other farming types) accentuating the problems with both our rivers and groundwater….it is the worlds economic/environmental paradox in miniature…the economic growth has saved the region and destroyed it….solution?????

          • lprent

            Farming in NZ is having a problem. The way that it is often practiced here is to be an extraction industry. It inefficiently mines soils and water in a way that directly impacts industries like tourism.

            One of the major issues is that things like the “efficiency” of ECan is that it simply doesn’t know what is a sustainable yield for things like water. It has what amounts to guesstimates. It will wind up in exactly the same position as our fisheries regime, going to the point of collapse before they start to actually measure what they are selling.

            But basically, purely extractive industries producing commodity products aren’t the way to go. If they had to pay what the goods cost to really produce, including the downtime costs, then they’d be broke. We need to build more industries that rely on selling intellectual property into niche global market segments. Products like milk have bugger all of either.

            • vto

              Yep, farming in NZ is eating the earth, rather than eating what the earth can provide

              as it always has

              “best farmers in the world”… pfftt

            • pat

              It is well known ECAN have no idea of the availability and scale of the water resource in Canterbury and all their allocations are based on “best guesses”….the reference to efficency was in relation to the application of the resource of water whereby there is little groundwater recharge from irrigation.
              It is agreed there is little future in an industry based on the supply of a bulk unprocessed commodity (particularly one that simultaneously destroys its means of production) however there is no denying, that in this part of the world at least (rural Canty) the halting of a static aging population and the steady reduction of services and opportunity can be almost entirely attributed to the dairy expansion these past (almost) 2 decades
              Once again an opportunity has been missed in that period to future proof both the economic and environmental wellbeing due to the lassiez- faire dogma of the neo-lib religion

  6. Kevin 6

    So, no one owns the water John?

    Then why has HBRC just wasted $30 million of ratepayers money buying water from the proposed Ruataniwha dam scheme?

    • Bill 6.1

      Me ‘n ma mates have decided that no-one owns water. That means that me ‘n ma mates can just go out and bottle the stuff….for free. Then, if there’s a market for buying what we got for free, we’ll sell it.

      You can’t, by the way, rob us by way of royalty payments… or any of that shite. No-one owns water. And since no-one owns water, you can’t ask that we pays royalties on something that no-one owns.

      The world is wonderful. Have a nice day.

      • Reddelusion 6.1.1

        There selling bottled air in China as well Bill

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          Your ethical benchmarks render you immune from personal responsibility: if someone’s doing it, you want to do it too.

  7. slumbergod 7

    Go for it! Sell our houses to foreign interests. Sell our land to foreign interests. Sell our businesses to foreign interests. Sell our water to foreign interests. Outsource our public services to foreign interests.

    Eventually this will all come and bite us in the ass. The question is will it be too late?

  8. framu 8

    so if no one owns the water – how can they buy it and sell it?

    does that not mean i can go to the shop and open a bottle and remove its contents? – after all no one owns the contents – all they are selling is the plastic container

    and if not – isnt that private property restricting public access?

    yes im being a smart ass – but there is a point in there

    • vto 8.1

      that is a very very good point that should be tested in the public eye or even the high court.

      prime witness John Key

    • weka 8.2

      Finders keepers 😉

      No-one owns the water, but there are rules around how much you can take. Looking at you Ecan, you bunch of venal bastards.

  9. Heather Tanguay 9

    I do have a problem with the water being taken by Orivida, the water belongs in the ground to be used by the people of Ashburton.
    It is unbelievable that the ratepayers have seen the land that belongs to them sold and a water right granted for 30 years.
    There is not always going to be water under the ground, this will eventually run out and it will run out much quicker with thousands of bottles being taken by Orivida every day.
    What has the council been thinking, why will the Mayor not tell the community what is going on, where is the Regional Council ECAN in all of this, did the Councillors know about this deal?
    There are many questions to be answered.

    • David 9.1

      “There is not always going to be water under the ground, this will eventually run out ”

      Really? I suspect you don’t quite understand how it works.

      • vto 9.1.1

        Is there more water going in than there is water being taken out David?

        Do you know? Would be interested to see evidence on this….

        Otherwise we are simply repeating what the Kauri millers did and what the whalers did

        • David

          There is a water balance that is monitored, and even if you do pull out more than goes in, there will always be water there.


          • vto

            Thanks David, I will have a look.

            This doesn’t equate at all though, it is an impossibllity, all else being equal… ” if you do pull out more than goes in, there will always be water there.”

            • David

              It replenishes, there will always be water there. That doesn’t mean it’s limitless, just a fact, there will always be water there.

              • lprent

                Damn stupid comment. How fast does it replenish is the question.

                To take an extreme case. If you pull out 100 years accumulation in one year, then it takes 99 years to replenish. If you want your grandkids to have water, then you do not withdraw any water from an acquired faster than the rate of replenishment.

                If you are a geological idiot, who is only interested in what you can make today, then you use the moronic excuse that you just used.

                Hi selfish moron…

              • vto

                Well that is exactly my point… It doesn’t necessarily replenish at all. It was filled up (the aquifers) over many milleniums, like filling up a swimming pool, or charging a drain pipe.

                Sans irrigation, I think you are assuming that the amount of water draining out the bottom of the aquifers at the coast is equal to the rain going in at the mountain tops. This is not necessarily so at all, especially as it takes hundreds of years for the water to travel between those points in many aquifers,.

                The amount of rain and snow could have been higher in the past leading to more water in the aquifers today than would be the case if the amount of rain and snow was lower in the past.

                This idea of some kind of equilibrium is a bit of a nonsense assumption.

                Then add to that the irrigation take and lordy knows what the net result is

              • Lanthanide

                This reminds me of Oscar Bluth – there’s always money in the banana stand!

          • lprent

            Interestingly enough, this is all based on gross estimates. Not any kind of measurement.

            Perhaps it would be wise before allocating water for them to TEST their optimistic theories. Or better still, get someone else to test it.

            • vto

              Exactly. It would seem to be a basic question, that likely has not been measured….

              though I did meet an old-timer water diviner once in mid-dairyland who was adamant that some of the water travelled from the other side of the main divide (yes, west coast). Recent alpine fault drilling has confirmed this possibility. Geos spoken to working on the drilling, when I mentioned this to them, agreed it was entirely possible…

              How does the water get its way through the main divide?? Very slowly through broken bedrock methinks ….

        • David

          Here’s the actual water report BTW,


          The annual allocated take out of the Ashburton area is:

          2,551,669,375,000 litres.

          • vto

            Hmmm 2.5 trillion litres taken.

            Wonder how much goes in…

            I have had a quick google look at weather places and rain measurements, but not having any luck. I guess we take average rainfall across the region (equal regions) and multiply it by the land area…. rough as guts.

            How many litres of rain falls on NZ each year?

            • David

              560,000,000,000,000 litres.

              Enough for 8.5 billion people (assuming standard western lifestyle).

  10. roy 10

    Just watch. This is the most dangerous time in this Key administration – the slash and burn. It’s becoming clear that he isn’t getting in again, so he’s thrashing through all his agenda at breakneck. No more keeping promises. No more keeping up pretences. It’ll get much worse, and then he’ll simply piss off back to the Davos club.

    • Reddelusion 10.1

      “Its s becoming clear”, time for an eye check up Roy, don’t mistaken your circle or people just been polite when you talk politics as the general consensus

      • One Anonymous Bloke 10.1.1

        Grover Nordquist said he wanted a government small enough to drown in a bathtub. Do you agree with him?

        Roy thinks the Prime Minister was shat out of the same asshole as Nordquist, you see?

        My question is, do you agree with Nordquist or are you a “wet”?

      • roy cartland 10.1.2

        @RedD: I must need an eye check up, thanks – because I can’t read sense into your comment. (I mean, I assume your grammar problem is my fault as well.)

        • adam

          They are having a bad few weeks, it’s killing them deep down, the smug is just to hard to shrug off, and yes their grammar has gone to the dogs.

          That said, mine is always bad…

  11. The Chairman 11

    Giving water away with no royalty charge is just plain daft.

  12. geoff lye 12

    The water depletion in the mid Canterbury area is a big problem.

    One day in 2015 there was a 30 million cumec drop in rakaia river Flow between the rakaia river gorge bridge river gauge and the rakaia river mouth the river mouth actually closed up. This was reported in the press newspaper last year in an article on water use by dairying in Canterbury. Ecan’s national party appointees have a lot to answer for. Dairying is draining the plains dry. Even the Selwyn river is dry for 80% of it length from the mountains to the main south road bridge and beyond

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