Cut the crap and stick to the facts in water bottling debate

While rightly held to account for addressing the region’s water issues, Environment Canterbury and the public can do without the continued untruths in the ongoing Christchurch water debate, council chair Steve Lowndes said today.

Steve Lowndes Environment Canterbury ChairWith further protest action targeting water bottling and drinking water issues planned for this weekend, Lowndes applauds the community for standing up to be heard, while also urging them to take the time to understand and separate the actual issues.

“The community has made its views on protecting our water known, and we are listening. In particular, we have heard people’s concerns very loud and very clear about water bottling. Environment Canterbury and the Christchurch City Council both told Minister for the Environment David Parker when he was in Christchurch recently, that water bottling is an issue in Canterbury, as it is elsewhere.

The Government has determined that nobody owns water and right now there is no ability to prohibit the sale of water for profit, or the export of it. The sensitivity of a commonly-held resource being taken and sold is obvious.

“We absolutely understand that many people want things to be different and desperately want action, but we must apply the law as it stands, and right now there are no grounds to decline consents like Cloud Ocean Water Ltd’s for water bottling.

That’s because the current Resource Management Act (RMA) first asks if an activity is prohibited – and water bottling is not. The Act next asks if the environmental effect of an activity is more than minor. An independent commissioner, Environment Canterbury, the Christchurch City Council and Cloud Ocean Water Limited’s consultants all agree it is not. On that basis, we have to grant consent.

“Right now, that’s where the Act stops. Anyone can apply for consent, including overseas interests, and there are no grounds to 'just say no'. Doing so would trigger a legal challenge, exposing ratepayers to potentially significant costs with no legal grounds. The transfer of existing consents (as with Cloud Ocean) has been subject to court challenge and is currently under appeal. We await the Court’s decision with as much interest as anyone else.

“If there’s any good news, it’s that the RMA is currently under Government review. We absolutely encourage people to have their say as part of that review. They’ve made themselves heard in Christchurch, and should do so again."

Lowndes applauded the desire to protect Canterbury water for the use of current and future generations but said while there were very real challenges in managing the region’s freshwater, the heat of the debate was obscuring some key facts, and scaremongering was impacting on the Council’s water management role and public confidence in it.

“Frankly, Environment Canterbury is held to account for enough crap in our water without some of the nonsense we are hearing in the water-bottling debate.

“There is absolutely no truth in any claim that Environment Canterbury has granted consent for a plastic bottle facility, and we have no reason to be involved in such a venture. There is also no connection with current Christchurch water restrictions or chlorination (temporarily required due to city council infrastructure works) and the quality of aquifer water. Water-bottling is also entirely separate.

In the interests of a proper debate on the real issues, I encourage those who use such blatant untruths to express no confidence in Environment Canterbury and the work that we do, to be properly informed first. We’re happy to talk anytime to clarify these issues.

"Our role is to protect the quality and supply of water sources. Territorial authorities have a role in delivering that water to communities. It’s not exactly correct to think of water as a limited supply, and the Christchurch aquifers as a tank which will eventually empty. The aquifers naturally replenish.

Some 375 million cubic metres of water – 150,000 Olympic swimming pools worth – flow through the aquifers each year. If that water isn’t used, it ends up in the ocean. The point is to use water sustainably, at a lesser rate than that natural replenishment, which we are doing.

Christchurch’s water supply is well understood by scientists and we are committed to protecting this precious resource from any potential future overuse or contamination. Contrary to the scaremongers claiming we are merrily giving water away and limiting future supply, it is ECan that has implemented the very strict rules protecting the allocation of Christchurch water and the quality of it. Only the Christchurch City Council can apply for more, and then only for community use”.

Right now, the Christchurch City Council uses about 70 percent of its existing allocation of 85 million cubic metres each year. Much of that is not used for drinking, but a variety of other domestic purposes, Lowndes said.

“Water-bottling has highlighted our collective use of water, and that is a good thing. Cloud Ocean’s recent consents use the same volume of allocation that previously existed on that site, just for a different purpose. It’s an inconvenient truth that Cloud Ocean’s water allocation was once used for industrial purposes as a wool scour, with no apparent public concern, but a more significant environmental impact. It’s also an inconvenient truth that many of those raising issue now will continue to wash their cars on the drive, irrigate their gardens, bathe, fill their swimming pools, and do their laundry – all with drinking water from the tap – again without apparent concern,” Lowndes said.

“Fortunately there is enough water and ECan and many people in the community are working hard to protect it. It’s great that people are passionate about it, but please stick to the facts and feel incredibly lucky that we live in a part of the world where fresh water is plentiful and that well established and effective measures are in place to keep it that way.”

Christchurch water by the numbers

Of the 375 million cubic metres of water flowing under the city each year, 123 million cubic metres comes from rainfall onto the areas north and west of the city and 252 million cubic metres ‘leaks’ from the Waimakariri River and flows via shallow aquifers towards Christchurch.

On the other side of the balance sheet

  • 208 million cubic metres comes from the aquifer and enters spring-fed streams such as the Heathcote and the Avon/Otakaro and flows to the estuary and the sea.
  • 15 million cubic metres flows underground to the sea or other springs, and
  • 152 million cubic metres is allocated for use in Christchurch – though not all of it is used.

Of that 152 million cubic metres allocated for usage, 56% is allocated to the Christchurch City Council for community supply, 37% to industry, and the remaining 7% to water bottling.

For more information visit our Christchurch water what's the story page.