In its new report on water, the NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development says a “gold rush” for water rights is underway in New Zealand. The Council projects that all catchments will be fully allocated within four years, if “business as usual” continues.
To avert an economically and environmentally destructive “first come, first serve” allocation of increasingly scarce and polluted water, the Business Council proposes:
- Integrated catchment management plans setting the volume of water needed to protect the environment, recreational use, municipal and other needs – and determining what’s available for commercial use.
- Commercial users would then have a proportional share of the water actually available for commercial use, rather than the fixed volume as under current consents.
- Contaminants allowed into waterways would be capped, and discharge rights would be transferable between water users.
- The proposals include providing better security for community use of water (environment, recreation, customary rights) and funding for groups which advocate for those interests.
For its part, the public needs no convincing that a water crisis is at our doorstep. In a recent survey commissioned by the Business Council:
- 68% believe fresh water quality is worse or much worse than 10 years ago;
- Seven out of 10 believe there is a water shortage or will be within 10 years; and,
- 64% perceive agriculture and horticultural run off as the main cause of freshwater pollution.
Why can’t the HB Regional Council get this message, instead of mindlessly awarding additional water takes from an over-allocated Tukituki? Councillor Kirton calls the recent Hearings Committee decision a “cock-up” … I think he’s being too kind!
The Business Council recommendations will be unsettling to some, as they suggest “trading rights” for water allocations as well as pollution discharges. But a market-based trading rights system — in a context where overall water usage and pollutant levels are clearly capped — can be fashioned to ensure both the most productive uses of water and the most aggressive and efficient reduction of pollution.
This report should be required reading for Hawke’s Bay’s water managers and environmental advocates … two distinct groups of people, it would seem.