Sunday, November 6, 2011

Gerry Eckhoff: The Hot Issue of Fresh Water

The debate over the use of fresh water, as is a tradition in this country, is controlled by those who generally speaking have never left their desk but read copious quantities of reports by others whose hands on knowledge of this subject is determined by their proximately to the office water cooler.

A case in point was a recent article by Rod Oram in the Sunday Star Times. Orams article thundered that we must show courage if –quote “we are to stand chance of using this precious resource sustainably.” As most of the “precious” fresh water currently flows out to sea, it is difficult to understand Orams assertion of our need for “sustainable” use. It would seem that he and others of his race believe in “sustainable waste” of this “precious” resource called fresh water by insisting that sustainable flows reach the coastal water to be totally lost for productive use.

NZ is a coastal country with vast unpolluted shore lines where recreational opportunity is unlimited. Most of us live within an hours drive to the sea or lake where fishing, boating, swimming is or can be enjoyed by the entire population.

Is it so unreasonable to use this most valuable of minerals (fresh water) for a productive use when alternatives are available for recreational use? NZs fresh water is to us what iron ore is to Australia. Would Australia refuse to mine iron ore for example to sustain its exports and add hugely to its GDP in the interests of those who enjoy seeing the so called natural world of Australia untouched? What benefit is there to our wider population in leaving vast resources un tapped in case somebody’s weekend recreation is threatened especially when they have other  choices? We often hear that tourists love our clean green country. When was the last time a tourist bus stopped at a river so the tourists could picnic and swim in the water? It is nonsense to suggest that European visitors come to NZ to swim in a river. The Rhone River in France which appears to be of a similar size or bigger than the Clutha is unusable except for industrial purpose. Dead fish float down the river at regular intervals.

It is perfectly reasonable to require users of NZs fresh water to do so efficiently and effectively and make every effort not to pollute a nearby river or stream. The question arises as to what constitutes pollution from any given property if a large number of properties bound a river or stream, given the accumulative effect of all the properties.

Another question that is rarely asked is how many towns/cities still discharge waste water and or treated sewage directly into rivers, esturies or the ocean? Quite a lot I suspect yet curiously Fish and Game remain silent on this issue.

As NZ is the only first world country that is reliant on primary industry for its wealth - do we allow the potential of fresh water to go unused and continue to borrow our way to prosperity?

Surely we must prioritize the use of fresh water were possible. The National Governments Land and Water forum brought together 58; yes 58 organizations to try to find common ground upon which to build policy on. The word on the street is that Fish and Game threw all their toys out of the cot and threatened to leave the forum at the first meeting. Unfortunately their tantrum worked and they were appeased rather than sending them on their way with a hearty round of applause. All the Minister needed to do was to withdraw F and Gs privileged and protected monopoly position by de registering them and allow them to survive as all trade unions now must - but I digress.                                                                                                                                                                                   
The Land and Water Forum did not venture into Central Otago as the chair thought the meeting would be stacked with irrigators. They did however hold a meeting in Dunedin stacked with recreationalists which some how was acceptable to the Forum representatives. Readers may now start to understand where the selective Environmental Minister Nick Smith is heading. His is a “consensus” approach where the tradition user of water such as an irrigator is quite literally swamped by other stake holders into accepting their wants – but not needs.

This apparently will result in social harmony, a la the Scandinavian approach according to the Minister. He appears not to understand that Scandinavia has a powerful industrial base upon which their wealth is created. The same approach is being used in the Mackenzie basin to stop irrigation of what is to all intent and purpose -a vast waste land.

The real question is how we create the economic omelets with breaking one egg as the Minister seems to think we can do. My omelets would contain the following ingredients:

-          A good helping of economic realism.
-          A large dollop of investment in NZ irrigation by the NZ Superannuation fund.
-          Mix well together and create storage for all uses
-          Existing user investment in water must be treated as a property right
-          Tradability between users in the catchment
-          Private - public partnerships in investment in new storage and for electricity generation and recreational opportunity.

Will it work –Well it does already in Central Otago but then why should the bureaucrats follow a model that has served us so well for so long?


Anonymous said...

Perhaps instead of investing in the inflexible 1850s engineering known as rail and fogged by the watermelon left as somehow beneficial, thereby taxing the whole population for a few miles of overpriced service, when it only serves to produce more union centralist control. Perhaps we could invest in those old fashioned things called WEIRS. Today very few rivers are used for extensive sea access transport, so weirs would retain the bulk of fresh water for our use, putting to death the watermelon cry of dwindling fresh water supply. Those few rivers that do have economic transport needs could either place the weirs a bit upstream to allow river mouth port development or invest in locks, proven in Europe. Politicians in NZ have as much problem achieving real results because of the morass of bullshit regulation as anybody else hence to appear as if they are doing something, calling for reports and proposing taxes and proposing huis are the order of the day, totally useless but noisy flourishes that in the end achieve nothing. Is it any wonder we are so far behind the aussies. If fact aussies who have the collective intelligence of a talkback radio audience, are marching streets ahead because we insist on running the race as if it were a sack race. Giving up our water to be charged for, being one glorious example of how to race having shot off one foot. VRW

RC said...

Allocate a proportion of water to an SOE which could lease out units of water to users. Create a market that is beneficial to the community as well not just to a select few.

Set strict pollution limits and as above allow a SOE to sell units of pollution which can be emitted.

As water is a public resource and for one to use others miss out. Actual right to use should not be sold or owned but leased for a set period this way it would not be wasted and a continual bidding process would ensure market rates were paid. And if it done by an SOE the profit from the leasing of water could go back to everyone in the community.

This would work for all water users from hydro dams to small farmers if done correctly.

Oh the fact that the Rhone river is only fit for industrial use would be a hint about why tourists come here.

One point I have is why are we the only "first world country" that relies on agriculture, this is the point of our problem.

Anonymous said...

this shortsighted thinking and mis -informed.
The fresh water ways feed the sea and with the fact that there is very little consequence to dairy farmers/forests (other than small fines)for their massive run off and pollution means that (as in in overseas cases), the effect in 20 -50 years will be that NZ will start losing its beaches due to pollution. This will in turn kill our tourism that is one of our big economic incomes (and one with huge potential). Additionally people live in NZ , rather than going to australia etc for higher salaries so they can enjoy this lifestyle. If we lose this whats the point in anyone staying in NZ without beaches, rivers, lakes & great outdoors.
Already Auckland has to chlorinate its water to destoy the pollution in our water and hence everyone has to use water coolers/filters etc -a huge cost to public.
Surely it would be beneficially to all of us to have fresh water that we can drink rather than not. The public is apathetic about water at the moment as it doesnt effect them. Wait till the whole of NZ is paying for their water usage as in Auckland then it will be interesting how the dairy farmers get on with their free water.
If fathers would take their kids out to the outdoors, the kids will have some of the best memories in their life. This would also make a huge difference to our society.
The problem comes down to other issues
eg if we need power -look at all the other alternatives eg nuclear , wind etc
if its about economics -find some other industries eg tourism , technology
(stop single reliance on milk)

but I hope our kids are free to drink from our wells, rivers & taps without the worry of getting sick in the future

Tim W
Passionate to have NZ offerring some thing special -ie our waterways, beaches, lakes & Clean drinking water !!

Anonymous said...

The first comment from Anonymous/VRW is excellent. I would have said something like that, but now I don't need to.
- PhilBest

Anonymous said...

Gerry, I know you are tongue in cheek when you talk about NZ being first world. Calling NZ first world is similar to describing a Westy with a flash car, flash house and negative equity, rich! Like the Westy, who can only live that lifestyle if he has a high after tax income, and if he doesn't he will soon be dependant on the charity of others when the bank repossesses his car and house, NZ Inc is in the same boat. First world? an illusion.....
And "borrow your way to posperity" when you don't have the cash flow to pay the banker? That is an oxymoron, surely, similar to the Labour/Green/Maori/Mana idea that you can tax your way to properity.