10 Jan 2019

Water bottling idea criticised as 'dangerous' economic thinking

3:14 pm on 10 January 2019

Fiji Water girl has been stealing the spotlight, but could Canterbury Water be the next big thing?

Glass bottles.

Christchurch City Councillor Aaron Keown wants to see the council and local iwi teaming up, packing water into recycled glass bottles and selling it overseas. Photo: 123rf.com

Christchurch City Councillor Aaron Keown wants to see the council and local iwi teaming up, packing water into recycled glass bottles and selling it overseas - but his idea is being slammed by critics as dangerous and short-sighted.

Mr Keown said a bottling plant, collectively owned by the people of Christchurch, could generate jobs and income while helping to offset residents' rates.

"I believe our water is a premium product," he said.

"It's been filtered for 800 years before it's going to go into a premium glass bottle and be sold around the world - and I think it will attract other industry and tourism to Christchurch as well, because those bottles will tell our story."

Mr Keown said bottling could, in the long run, be a more economically sustainable use for the water than the primary industries that currently draw "thousands of litres of water to make a litre of milk".

"Or you could just put a litre of water in a bottle and sell it for more than you sell milk for," he said.

But others, including fellow councillor, Vicki Buck, are sceptical of the idea on the basis that there is simply no water to spare.

"I think that our particular role, in relation to drinking water for the city, is one of guardianship, actually, and protecting it to make sure it's not just there for the next twenty or so years, but the next hundreds of years," she said.

She said we are only just learning about the impacts of nitrates in Canterbury's water, and we don't yet know what impacts climate change will have.

Lobby group Aotearoa Water Action (AWA), who have taken legal action against foreign-owned bottling firms in Christchurch, are also opposed.

Spokesperson Peter Richardson described the idea as "dangerous, short-term boom and bust economic thinking, in an era where we can't afford it."

He said Christchurch already has over-allocated and fully-allocated aquifers, and is in a period of population growth.

"If we believed there were legal grounds for challenging it, we would do so."

But Mr Keown is confident that Canterbury's water won't run out.

He said the Belfast-based, Chinese-owned company Cloud Ocean Water, that has faced staunch opposition from groups like AWA, only takes 0.25 percent of the allocated water that comes out of the ground in Christchurch.

"Our water's not going to run out and it will never run out here," he said.

He intends to discuss his idea with the council and with local iwi representatives. Initial feedback from iwi has been positive, he said.

"If council go against it and say no, we don't want to be involved in water bottling, we don't think we should support any of this industry, then I think it will become an election issue," he said.

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