Meeting could hit troubled waters

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Labour may have a tough job trying to sell aspects of its freshwater policy in irrigation-reliant North Otago at a public meeting in Oamaru tonight.

Labour MP and spokesman for water David Parker and Waitaki candidate Zelie Allan will speak at the Blind Foundation Hall in Steward St, and it seems likely the party’s plans for water if it gets into power after the general election on September 23 will be a focus.

One of the most contentious issues in Labour’s water policy is its plan to charge royalties for irrigation water, probably at a rate of 1c-2c per 1000 litres.

Levels would be set following consultation and the revenue would largely be returned to regional councils to invest in cleaning waterways.

Households and councils would not pay any water royalty and the royalty would be flexible to reflect the scarcity or abundance of water in different regions, the different quality of water, and its use.

Last month, Mr Parker said a water levy was an appropriate way to address the issue.

“Everyone knows our water is too polluted. We know we need to stop pollution getting into our rivers and lakes, so that future generations can enjoy their birthright to swim in our rivers.

“The fair way to fund that work is for commercial consumers of water, who profit from access to clean water, to contribute via a clean-water royalty.”

Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher “absolutely” wanted to see water quality improve and said most would agree, but he did not believe irrigators paying royalties was the answer.

“The problem I have with this tax is that it’s effectively targeting areas .. with irrigation, when it’s non-irrigated regions around New Zealand that have some of the worst-quality water.

“It’s hard to see how that’s going to be effective if improving water quality is the end result that they want.”

He was concerned the tax could slow local economic growth.

“It’s been costed out and if it’s at that level, irrigators will be paying something in the vicinity of $25 million to $40 million in Waitaki, and that will have a hugely negative impact.”

Mr Kircher also had questions about consented water takes.

“They take that and deliver it around farms but then they drop off an amount of that water that goes to the likes of Alliance Pukeuri, so that uses it. Some of it is then delivered into Oamaru and goes to the Oamaru reservoir.

“Does this mean Pukeuri will pay for the water they use but Oamaru Meats won’t because theirs comes after it’s been to the reservoir?

“There’s all these questions that will directly impact on us and we’re not getting any answers to those.”

North Otago Federated Farmers vice-president Lyndon Strang, who farms at Five Forks, said the policy was “poorly thought out” and lacked detail.

“We all acknowledge that there are water-quality issues that urban and rural want to be working on together,” Mr Strang said.

“This policy is very divisive because it basically says if you’re a farmer or irrigator, then water pollution is basically all your problem, and that’s not the case.

“It’s almost like it was a knee-jerk piece of policy that was designed to grab urban votes. To then say we’ll sort the details out later, I think that’s pretty irresponsible .. it leaves a lot of uncertainty for farmers.”

The meeting starts at 6pm.