Sam Judd

Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Those thirsty cows

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

In Auckland, where I live, we pay for our showers by the litre.

In 2007 New Zealand had the second highest water abstraction per person out of 26 OECD countries. This means that each Kiwi displaces more water than anyone else in the world except for the United States (where people like installing fountains and lawns in the middle of the desert).

A user-pays system seems to be fitting when we are taking our share of a common natural resource. I have never heard anyone complaining about having to pay for water use in Auckland - because it is fair.

We also pay for electricity by usage, most of which comes from hydroelectric dams that require a lot of water.

What I don't understand is why such a system doesn't apply to those who use most of our water - the agriculture industry.

I understand the importance of agriculture for the economy. However when I read stats like the fact that 12.42 billion cubic metres of water was used by farmers for irrigation in 2010, and almost all for free, then it makes me think there's something not quite balancing up.

This feels like a subsidy for a sector of society that earns far more than the average worker already.

And more concerning still is the impact and substantial cost on the environment downstream from the places where all of this water is used.

Nearly half of our lakes and the majority of New Zealand's lowland rivers are classed as polluted, much of this as a direct result of agriculture - as outlined in the Cawthron Institute report released last year.

The Manawatu is classed as one of the most polluted waterways in the world.

In 2010, the community of Dunsandel - who previously enjoyed fresh water from underneath the Canterbury Plains - had to pay for bottled water because of the rapid growth of dairy farms that caused their water supply to be contaminated from E. coli bacteria.

This is unfair appropriation of a natural resource at the direct expense to others.

Wouldn't a rule that requires waste-water discharged into the environment by industry (including agriculture) to be the same cleanliness if not cleaner than that which was utilised be a simple solution? Then the government, or regional authorities, can charge for water that is not returned to the system just like Watercare does in Auckland.

To me, the concept of user-pays is only fair when all users pay.

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