Government to investigate putting a price on exported water

The commercial extraction and export of New Zealand-sourced pristine drinking water is a political hot potato

The commercial extraction and export of New Zealand-sourced pristine drinking water is a political hot potato

Prime Minister Bill English said today that ministers were writing to a technical advisory group today to investigate a price on water allocation, but only in relation to the relatively small bottled water industry.

Environment Minister Nick Smith had last week tried to brush the bottled-export debate aside.

"We're not saying it's too hard, we're just saying it's hard".

It comes amidst public and political pressure in recent weeks over the exporting of New Zealand water for sale overseas.

Speaking at his weekly press conference this afternoon, Mr English said he sought more advice because of "growing public concerns" about the issue.

"Water has been free, it hasn't been owned by anybody".

"That would immediately raise the issue of who owns the water, and therefore who gets to get a share of the tax".

At present, commercial water users including irrigators, farmers, and wine-makers require permits but do not pay for the actual resource.

The government has written to a group set up to review water allocation in New Zealand to ask it to specifically look into the issue of water bottled for export as part of its considerations.

However, Mr English said a tax isn't the answer. Maori rights and interests would also need to be incorporated, he said.

Nationwide protests last week failed to sway the government.

He said 9 million litres of bottled water was exported each year - a fraction of the trillions of litres of water in New Zealand's lakes, rivers and streams.

Bottlers and exporters of premium New Zealand water will be breathing a sigh of relief, as the Prime Minister explains why they will not be paying a water tax any time soon. It ruled out banning the bottling of freshwater for export, or charging a higher price. The discussion should focus on whether the practice was permissible under New Zealand law, which it was, rather than whether parties were making a profit off it, he said in response to a question on whether it was concerning money was being made sending water offshore.