An embarrassing moment yesterday afternoon. I was confronted by Pak'nSave store security, who asked me to open my enormous rucksack. Out spilled several dozen plastic bottles: Kiwi Blue, NZ Natural, Pump, H2Go, even the homebrand stuff.

"But," I spluttered. "But, the Prime Minister is very clear on the matter: 'No one owns water!' He's said it over and over again'."

After being let off with a warning, I was left wondering: Does John Key really mean no one owns water or does he mean everyone owns it? All I knew for sure was that I was thirsty.

The price of water is in the news after it emerged that more than 70 companies are extracting millions of litres of water from New Zealand aquifers and paying pretty much nothing for it. In a moment of dj vu, Key has been facing questions about Oravida while in China, this time in relation to the company's export of bottled NZ water. The company is reportedly drawing close to half a million litres a day from the Otakiri Aquifer in the Bay of Plenty, for which it pays about $500 a year. That is not a misprint.

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Part of the reason that the Government is reluctant to do anything about the issue is the risk of opening Pandora's box on Maori freshwater rights. On that, legal altercations are likely to continue for some time.

The growing Chinese appetite for dairy products is nothing compared to the thirst for water. According to a recent Economist report, Chinese consumption of bottled water is up more than 13-fold since 1998, with no sign of slowing down.

It is surely bonkers for New Zealand to be giving the stuff away.

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