May 05, 2021
Water is a taonga not an asset
Cr Dinnie Moeahu
It’s interesting to see and read about the importance of looking after our water ways these days. The government’s plans to reform our three waters over the coming years, the desperate need to install water meters to “help” our community conserve, preserve and protect our “asset.”
Well forgive my scepticism, but when it comes to conserving and protecting our water ways, the truth is that successive governments and councils have failed.
You don’t have to research much to find the staggering amount of historic and current environmental breaches regarding our three waters. So let’s test the waters (no pun intended) on how important water has been to central and local government.
The Waitangi Tribunal has been scathing in its criticism of the Crown over the years for their handling of our waterways. The deliberate attempts to undermine and under value contributions from local hapu and iwi who advocated for the political powers to take stronger accountability and responsibility for our precious tāonga.
Evidently, until 2014, Aotearoa lacked a national strategy or standard for handling freshwater. The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management is a guide to help local authorities responsible, set standards and responsibilities to manage our water.
That’s the intended purpose, however, the reality is often tied to the attitudes of the times, resulting in negative outcomes.
There are plenty of examples around the country regarding the desecration and pollution of our water ways. From landfill concerns in the Tasman District, to Blenheim's Doctors Creek, where more than half of the samples for E coli – a bacteria which indicated there was faecal matter in the water, falling well below the national standard.
The Marlborough District Council, where 35 rivers and streams tested each month by with results are abnormally high volumes of E coli or in Carterton, where residents are becoming increasingly frustrated as the town yo-yos in and out of boil-water notices due to contamination after another detection of E.coli in the network.
Recently, February this year, Ngāti Kahungunu announced it will join with Ngāi Tahu in legal action to address the ongoing degradation of lakes and waterways caused by successive governments’ environmental mismanagement.
Many local areas in Taranaki have been severely effected by pollution, the constant discharges into our rivers, lakes and ocean. The growing opposition towards Remediation NZ consent renewal due to multiple sources of degradation and polluting of the Mimitangiatua Awa (Mimi River) in north Taranaki, to the discharge of ammonia from the Silver Fern Farms abattoir into Tawhiti Stream which killed copious amounts of eels.
These examples are part of the many concerns local hapu and iwi were warning successive governments and local councils about for decades regarding the care of preservation of our water ways. One of the many areas that have been effected by pollution is the Rewarewa reef at the mouth of the Waiwakaiho River.
In 1979, New Plymouth City Council planned to dispose of the city’s domestic sewage and industrial waste through a long sea outfall which would go over Te Rewarewa reef at the mouth of the Waiwakaiho River.
The Taranaki Clean Sea Action Group was formed, in response to council’s plans as they felt the outfall of pollution would effect the entire Taranaki coastline.
The report established that the river, reefs and associated marine life suffered from various degrees of pollution, that those near to the mouth of the Waitara River in particular are badly polluted and stand to be polluted further.
It was also apparent that the Crown intended to construct an ocean outfall at Motunui, that will result in the physical destruction of a part of a further reef, and that either further pollution will follow, or that there can be no guarantee that there will not be further pollution.
The warning signs were there, the concerns from local hapu and iwi were ignored and as a result, successive governments and local authorities continued to fail in their responsibility and obligation to protect our freshwater for the wellbeing of current and future generations.
Now our country’s water levels continue to deplete and there is a recommendation for the New Plymouth District Council to decide whether or not to install water meters. There are strong arguments for and against, I’ve stated multiple times regarding my concerns however, I’m enjoying the robust conversations I’m having with the community.
I suppose my question is, if we are so desperate to conserve water, and our waterways are depleting and levels are remarkably low throughout the country, why does the government and councils approve consents to exporting companies that take billions of litres of water out of our country every year for sale overseas?
Some of the world's largest companies don’t even pay a fee to use the resource. Commercial companies effectively receive the water for free they pay an average of just $200 a year in penalties, which cover consent costs rather than water costs. But we are the ones to pay.
In 2004, the bore site above the springhead was sold for $40,000, despite the fact that it was supposed to have been closed permanently. The purchaser was Zodiac Holdings, a water bottling firm that now has permission to take up to 365 million litres of water each year. But we are the ones to pay.
In 2016, there was a water outbreak in Havelock North where thousands of people contracted a gastro bug in Havelock North from contaminated water. This came amid public outcry at the presence of several new water exporters in the Hawke's Bay region, which now has 11 operators, who pay no annual fees.
These exporters include Kiwaii water, an American-owned, and Chinese-backed companies who sell water in 40 US states, across Asia, yet bottle their water in the Hawke's Bay. fees. But we are the ones to pay.
The sale of the Ashburton District Council's Lot 9, which comes with resource consent to bottle 1.4 billion litres of water each year, caused outrage – but the global beverage giants have been quietly bottling New Zealand's water for years. In addition, the Ashburton District Council has come under fire for dropping plans to sell the right to take a further 40 billion litres of water till 2046.
Government officials initiated and successfully brokered a deal with an overseas water bottling company to purchase a Bay of Plenty operation. The documents, obtained under the Official Information Act, reveal New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) helped Chinese company Nongfu Spring set up in New Zealand.
Ngāti Awa and Sustainable Otakiri have been opposing a foreign company's plan to expand existing water bottling at Otakiri Springs in Whakatane by up to 1.1 billion litres per year.
In December 2019, the Environment Court declined to vacate the consents, and the iwi and environmental community have now lodged an appeal with the High Court.
In 2017, 73 companies received approval to bottle 23 billion litres of New Zealand water per year. By 2019, 88 permits had been issued, with Canterbury's total rising from eight to eighteen. Commercial businesses essentially obtain water for free and pay an average of just $200 a year in fines, which are used to cover consent expenses rather than water costs.
New Zealanders should have first priority. The high quality water should be coming to us. We’re approaching critical mass and instead of treating our water as a precious tāonga to be nurtured and respected, it’s treated like an asset, used and abused as another avenue to generate revenue.
The continual mismanagement and damage by overexploitation, pollution and misuse related to the physical wellbeing of the water is astounding.
If we’re really serious about fixing our water problems then… 𝗰𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗻 𝘂𝗽 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗿𝗶𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘀, 𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗽 𝗱𝗶𝘀𝗰𝗵𝗮𝗿𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗲𝗳𝗳𝗹𝘂𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗼 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗼𝗰𝗲𝗮𝗻𝘀, 𝘀𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝗲𝗹𝘆 𝗽𝘂𝗻𝗶𝘀𝗵 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗮𝗻𝗶𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗼𝗿𝗴𝗮𝗻𝗶𝘀𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 𝘄𝗵𝗼 𝗶𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘆 𝗽𝗼𝗹𝗹𝘂𝘁𝗲, 𝗳𝗶𝘅 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗽𝗶𝗽𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗽 𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘀𝗲𝗮𝘀 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗽𝗮𝗻𝗶𝗲𝘀 𝗳𝗿𝗼𝗺 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝘄𝗮𝘁𝗲𝗿.
We must learn from the historic decisions past governments and local councils have made, in order to make better decisions and fix our water ways.
We must do everything we can to protect our tāonga, sustain them that sees all communities benefit both environmentally and into the future. As philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist George Santayana stated,
"𝙏𝙝𝙤𝙨𝙚 𝙬𝙝𝙤 𝙘𝙖𝙣𝙣𝙤𝙩 𝙧𝙚𝙢𝙚𝙢𝙗𝙚𝙧 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙥𝙖𝙨𝙩 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙢𝙣𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙧𝙚𝙥𝙚𝙖𝙩 𝙞𝙩"
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