Alarm at water consents

Lake Wakatipu. Photo/Otago Daily Times
Lake Wakatipu. Photo/Otago Daily Times

Concerns are mounting over the lack of public consultation by regional and local councils around plans to extract water for bottling from the top of Lake Wakatipu and from Mt Aspiring National Park.

Kohu Water Ltd has been given consent to extract 236,000cu m of groundwater per year for bottling from an aquifer near the Dart River until 2038.

Okuru Enterprises Ltd, now trading as Alpine Pure, has been given consent to take water from outside the Mount Aspiring National Park, pipe it down to Neil's Beach, near Haast, and export it in bulk tankers.

Last week, under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, the ORC released water consents to the ODT.

When asked, an ORC spokesman said the council did not have any active applications under consideration.

Bung the Bore Action Group spokeswoman Jen Branje presented a 15,000-signature petition to Parliament last week calling for a nationwide moratorium on the export of drinking water.

She said she only found out about Kohu Water Ltd when she questioned the Otago Regional Council about bottled water consents.

"If that consent had been publicly notified, the people of Glenorchy would have been up in arms."

She said the volume of water the company wanted to take was "huge" and its proposal to truck it to Cromwell for bottling was "absolutely absurd".

"I lived in Kinloch and worked in Queenstown and drove that road twice a day; there are sections of that road where you can't see around bends and I wouldn't want to meet a great truck fully laden with New Zealand water head-on coming around a blind bend; it's absolute madness," she said.

Both the land and water rights are at present on the market and one of the owners, whose husband started up the company, has been reported by Radio NZ as saying the plans have been abandoned.

Green Party environment spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said if the Westland District Council hearing last Friday in Haast to discuss land consents for Alpine Pure had been publicly notified, groups like Forest and Bird and many others would have lodged submissions.

"The Alpine Pure proposal involved bulldozing a pipeline up to the park boundary, taking water from a dam across Tuning Fork creek, pumping the water down to Neil's Beach and then out to ships berthed off the coast, and all this in an area renowned internationally for its outstanding natural landscape and when tourism is now the country's No1 export," she said.

The Kohu and Alpine Pure consents showed the current environmental laws were not strong enough and the proposed government changes would only "tilt the playing field in favour of high-impact developments without proper consideration of environmental and other impacts", she added.

Westland Mayor Bruce Smith said he had had a few "snappy emails" from objectors who had bought baches in the area recently but "you have to remember the consent was granted nearly 25 years ago and they've just been rolled over every five years since".

He said he had no view on whether companies should be charged for the water they extracted.

However, "on the West Coast we've got sawmills, fish factories, gold mines, farms and other production units that draw water and they're not billed and no-one complains about that".

Last Friday, Environment Minister Nick Smith said "there was a fairness problem with charging bottled water for export and not other water users".

He said freshwater management did need to improve. There was a technical advisory group working on how New Zealand could better allocate fresh water and it would report back to Government by the end of the year.

But on Saturday, Prime Minister Bill English told Newshub the Government had the opportunity to change "who pays for what" with respect to water, saying it was a sensitive issue.

"There's been five or six years of work on just understanding where our water resources are, what their quality is, who pays for what, and we have the opportunity over the next few years to change those rules if we want to."

- Otago Daily Times

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