Hastings' deputy mayor is being accused of a flip-flop on her stance on water now that she is standing for the Hawke's Bay Regional Council.
In a statement to Hawke's Bay Today, Hawke's Bay Regional councillor Tom Belford called for current Hastings deputy mayor Cynthia Bowers to "come clean on her history of support for water bottling in Hawke's Bay".
"As she seeks to re-invent herself as an environmental candidate for this campaign, Councillor Bowers has turned a political about-face, declaring she is now opposed to water bottling," he said. "Maybe she will stand fast with that position, maybe not."
"Now more than ever, voters need to know who they can trust on water issues. My record on water bottling is clear, consistent and unwavering. Her record is not."
He cited his comments at a Napier rally opposing the awarding of water bottling consents in May last year. Days later, he claims, Ms Bowers and other Hastings District councillors voted in secret to award a $50,000 grant of Hastings ratepayer funds to subsidise water exporter company Miracle Water.
Although her current campaign resources reveal her stance as being against exporting water from the region, Mr Belford said she had previously shown support for water bottling.
He cited a Facebook post written by Ms Bowers in October last year, after she attended the opening of the Miracle Water bottling plant near Hastings.
"At the opening of NZ Miracle Water this morning. This is an exciting new business for Hastings. Over time it will provide 162 new jobs. Just what we need," it read.
Although Ms Bowers did not deny supporting the exporting of water last year, she dismissed Mr Belford's comments as an attempt to "score political points".
"I'm not going to talk about the publicly excluded meeting, but I will talk about the opening of the Miracle Water plant," she said.
She had made the Facebook post after the opening, saying she had been excited about the plant and the opportunities at the time.
However Ms Bowers said she was later asked questions by constituents on the process.
"I didn't have answers for them about whether it was right that our water should be given away," she said. "I gave it some thought and realised that it was the wrong thing to do, given we don't have a total understanding of the aquifer."
"I've been constantly expressing my concerns since then," she said, citing a moratorium she requested on the process in January this year, and a speech she gave in April to the Havelock North Probus club, where she expressed her opposition on the matter.
The post had remained on her Facebook page as she did not want people to think she was trying to cover anything up.
She denied changing her mind on the issue for political reasons.
"I changed my mind because people explained their concerns about it, and why they thought it was wrong," she said, "[Mr Belford] can call it what he wants. I'm proud about the fact that I was open enough to change my mind."
Mr Belford said that "in contrast to councillor Bowers' voyage of discovery", he and fellow regional councillors Rick Barker, Rex Graham and Peter Beaven had made repeated efforts to stop further water bottling consenting.
"I oppose any further water bottling unless we establish clearly that our aquifer can sustainably support those irrigators already growing crops and fruit on the Heretaunga Plains," Mr Belford said, "and, if that sustainability is proven, we then secure a direct financial return to the HB community via a royalty or some other mechanism."
Mr Graham said he opposed any water bottling from the Heretaunga aquifer, and was disappointed Ms Bowers was confusing the voters regarding her history on this issue.
Mr Barker said, "when Cynthia Bowers speaks to the water bottlers, she's in favour; when she speaks to the voters, she's against. Will the real Cynthia Bowers step forward?"
Ms Bowers is standing for the Hastings ward on the regional council, which Mr Belford, Mr Barker, and Mr Graham currently represent.