Watching the bellyaching about Labour's water policy, you could almost be forgiven for believing that the sky's about to fall. One thing's for sure, the bellyachers' free water ride may be over.

The politics of water is complex but far from impossible to achieve, and the spanner throwing from the competing interests is fierce. Every trick in the book is on display because the Government and Federated Farmers et al know that the average punter's eyes glaze over when detailed discussion about water occurs.

One just had to watch Steven Joyce and Michelle Boag on Q+A over the weekend, to see how nervous they are. It's finally dawning on them how important the issue of degraded waterways is to voters, and how the tolerance tipping point has been reached.

The talking points from National's stalwarts are predictable but hysterical. Cabbages will be $18! There'll be a $75 water charge on your next bottle of wine! Dairy farmers will go broke! Labour hasn't done its homework! Devious and disgusting!


It's also why they use the "tax" word for what is a "royalty" - which is designed to ensure that polluters will contribute towards paying for their own pollution. Finally.

There's also been much flailing and wailing around what price Labour will set. Let's just say that the mathematics employed by some needs a bit of after-school help from a tutor. It's more wilful confusion than mental slowness. I think.

But, trust me. Labour's water policy is not as difficult to understand as you might think. Stay with me.

The policy shows a royalty on bottled water based on a per-litre rate, and also a royalty on irrigation water for every 1000 litres, or cubic metre, used. The money raised will be used to clean up the waterways.

Jacinda Ardern has said that should her party be in a position to form a Government after the election, she would meet with all affected sectors to set fair and proportionate rates.

Both Labour finance spokesman Grant Robertson and water spokesman David Parker say that the likely rate for irrigators will be between 1 or 2 cents per 1000 litres.

By any honest calculation - not the stuff being pulled out of the rural sector's proverbial - this is about as far from onerous as it gets.

A couple of cents per 1000 litres will not bankrupt farmers or growers, and the toy-throwing is only serving to convince the public that the cleaning up of our waterways is more important than ever. Going over the top is a pitiful political strategy.

A couple of cents per 1000 litres is not going to bankrupt farmers or growers.

I listen to each and every argument from the industry and, because I've been writing about water issues for years, I sit back and wait patiently for their predictable lines. They never disappoint.

"New Zealand farmers feed the world." No, they don't. They sell bulk milk powder to the (mostly) lactose-intolerant Chinese. Further, they need to get used to the future of synthetic milk and plant-based meat.

That's the future, and it's coming. Ready or not.

"We'll go broke." No, you won't. And if you do, you weren't sustainable anyway. You took on too much debt, and/or you're doing something very wrong.

"We are the backbone of the country." Tourism is the backbone now, so best adjust to the fact the two are incompatible. Clean, green, pure New Zealand? Pull the other one.

"We've spent a billion dollars in environmental initiatives." Prove it. I've asked for a breakdown many times and I've yet to see this random figure ever quantified. Still waiting.

"Urban waterways are more polluted than rural." Yes, they are polluted but, considering urban waterways make up less than 1 per cent of all waterways, it's an oft repeated bit of essentially fake news. Stop insulting our intelligence.

"We're already paying for water." All the money goes to irrigation companies. None of the money you pay is for the actual water.

Most New Zealanders have cottoned on to the fact that irrigation is about enabling the further intensification of cows and, with it, the intensification of their pollution. It's somewhat ironic then that National's $100m Freshwater Fund recently announced its highest payout will be made to - wait for it - an irrigation project.

I must quote economist Peter Fraser here. "The Government has just given $7m of taxpayers' money, earmarked for cleaning up waterways, to the Waimea irrigation scheme that supplies water at 60 cents per cubic metre, which is over four times the national average price for irrigated water, meaning no agricultural use bar hydroponic marijuana can afford to buy it."

You'd have to be high to think that a 1 to 2 cent royalty is the end of farming as we know it. Either that, or you simply don't care about the future of our waterways. Which is it?