In an exclusive with Hawke's Bay Today, the Labour politician said his main concern was that consent-holders were getting this water for free, making substantial profits out of it, with nothing coming back into the community in terms of royalties.

"That is what's wrong," he said. "[So] if there is no easy way to charge for water then we
change the law, simple as that."

Hence the private member's bill.

"I am going to put a private member's bill in the ballot that will allow us to charge for water that is pulled out of the ground and sold to bottled-water companies," said Mr Nash.


"It [the bill] will be specific, but I think what we have got to do is change the law because giving our water away for free, and having no ability to charge in any way shape or form, is wrong."

This announcement comes in the wake of Hasting's Deputy Mayor Cynthia Bowers calling on the regional council to look at the possibility of placing a moratorium on granting any further water consents for water-bottling plants.

Mr Nash said he backed Ms Bowers in this request.

"The reason I would is because I don't think we have enough information to continue to grant consents for bottled-water plants in a way that we know with absolute certainty is sustainable.

"So we need to know a lot more information about our aquifer before we go giving people the right to draw out 900,000,000 litres in bottled water."

Ms Bowers welcomed Mr Nash's support on the issue, saying upon further research she believed a law change was not required for such a moratorium.

This was disputed in a letter to the editor published yesterday, written by the regional council's group managers for resource management, Iain Maxwell, and strategic development, James Palmer. They said the regional council did not have the legal authority to impose moratoria.

However, Ms Bowers cited one of their own planning committee meeting agendas from May last year, which she said summarised the issue quite well.

According to the agenda, a moratorium requires some sort of statutory instrument to effect the temporary suspension of activity.

"The Regional Council could affect a 'moratorium' by way of a change to regional plans under the Resource Management Act," it reads.

"Alternatively, some sort of legislative change could be introduced by central government.

"In both cases, those changes are not instant - they are subject to a process involving, at least, an opportunity for submissions to be made by interested parties supporting or opposing any such proposal."

The committee agenda says in the absence of a legislative or regional plan restriction, the regional council remains obliged to receive and process any resource consent applications it may receive.

This is why Ms Bowers did not believe such a move required a change to legislation.
This week the regional council voted to push an $8 million investigative study into the sustainability of the Haretaunga Plains aquifer that had been pushed into the regional council's long-term plan.

The study will use a combination of drilling and capturing new geophysical data to delineate the extent of the aquifer system boundary with the hard rock "basement", and to delineate the spatial extent of any potential productive water-bearing gravels that may be found at depth.

Mr Maxwell said this decision was instead of spending all the money in one year and the massive workload that would come with it.

"More importantly, that allows us also to look at what are the total costs, what are the funding options, what are the implications on rating and who is paying."

This decision by the regional council has been slammed by both Mr Nash and Ms Bowers, who say such research must be done now.

Regional council chairman Fenton Wilson was contacted for comment.

"They have granted nine consents for 4.3 billion litres of water per year to come out of this," Mr Nash said.

"They should have done the work already."

Mr Nash said that to say the work needed to be done now was an admission by the council that it really didn't know the size, the level and the sustainability of the resource it was sitting on.

"So it should be done now," he said.

Ms Bowers said it came down to the sustainability of the Heretaunga Plains aquifer.

"We shouldn't be giving [water] away until we are absolutely sure that we have got plenty of it," said Ms Bowers.

Parliament reconvenes next week on Tuesday.