When the news broke that a Chinese investor group had been able to buy up a consent for taking fresh water and bottling it without being charged for anything other than monitoring, I was not very surprised. With the Government attitude of indifference to fresh water as a resource and its deliberate fudging of fresh water quality standards, it was unrealistic to expect anything else.
There are a number of problems with the buying of this consent. It goes against everything most New Zealanders would want to have happen with their fresh water resource and it raises ethical questions about looking after our natural environment.
So, what are those problems?
- The consent that has been granted is for 15 years. This is a very long time in a world where the environment is under constant and growing stress. Before the consent expires the physical parameters of the aquifers that are considered when issuing a consent are likely to have changed so much that the consent is rendered obsolete.
- Does Christchurch have 4,100 spare cubic metres of water per day to be bottled and sold overseas? When a resource is 100% allocated, it is 100% allocated and – contrary to the belief of politicians and councillors – like 100% of anything else that means there is no more of the resource available for allocation. To attempt to do is to start to deplete the allocation for other water takes.
- The deceit in not telling ratepayers that this consent has been bought by non-New Zealand investors will anger many. I spent good portion of today wondering what else is being hidden. It turns out that others have been bottling water in New Zealand, including near Tai Tapu for years.
- No royalties are paid to the Crown and the bottling companies does not get charged anything except to cover the monitoring costs of Environment Canterbury.
I believe that the lapse time for water consents should be significantly reduced. I further believe that upon lapsing the consent holder should be reminded to give effect to the consent within a matter of months, or surrender it within that time frame after which it should be revoked. Due to the sensitivity of water as a resource, that the monitoring requirements should be steeper than they currently are – more frequent monitoring and a review of consent conditions every few years should become mandatory.
But the purchasing of that consent also raises ethical issues. Water is a resource that upon no longer being needed by one user, should depart in the same or better condition than that in which it arrived. It is a resource that no one, person, group, company, nation and so on can claim true ownership to. The boundaries of water are only those defined by the parameters of the Earth as a planetary system and any structure – man made or not – that it cannot seep through. It’s need is universal – without water the natural systems cannot sustain life. Degrading it as a resource ultimately degrades the planet and everything living on it.
No amount of science, economics or politics can change the universality of water. But trying to explain that is easier said than done.