Water, water everywhere, including a spot on the election agenda.

There appear to be no easy answers when it comes to the wet stuff.

Labour last week announced its water policy, based on the premise "everyone owns our water". This conflicts with the long-held institutional understanding that "no one owns the water".

If Labour is elected, the Government would charge water bottlers and other heavy users, including farmers and growers, at varied rates depending on region, but the finer details were missing because the rates would be determined at a water summit after the election.


The royalties would go to regional councils to help improve the quality of waterways and a share would go to iwi to meet Treaty settlements.

Treaty Negotiations Minister Chris Finlayson this week warned that taxing water would force open settled Treaty agreements, saying it would be an assertion of Crown ownership which would in turn give rise to "the counter assertion that Maori own water".

But Labour leader Jacinda Ardern and chairman of the Maori Council Sir Edward Taihakurei Durie have rejected Finlayson's claim, and Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell has added to the debate by asking "Who owns the water? Labour says everybody, National says nobody, but the Waitangi Tribunal says Maori."

It seems fair to charge overseas companies who want to export our purest water in bulk, but what will be the downstream effect of asking local farmers and growers to pay more?

On paper, it may seem a worthwhile policy, especially in targeting water quality issues, but are we comfortable that those paying the price in the end may be the consumers shelling out more for dairy, meat and produce, and those workers in the regions whose food producing businesses can no longer afford to keep them on?