Category Archives: Local body politics

Profiting from water should trigger fee

There is something about the idea of taking our purest water, putting it into plastic bottles and shipping it overseas that just doesn’t seem right. Even less when the bottling company pays nothing for the water. The final straw is when it isn’t even a NZ company.

This has become a big issue in our district, among other places. The local owners of Otakiri Springs, which takes water of exceptional quality from the Otākiri aquifer, have decided to sell to Nongfu Spring Natural Mineral Water. Some locals, including neighbouring property owner and councillor Mike van der Boom, are objecting. The mayor, Tony Bonne, has welcomed it, saying it will provide jobs for the district. The issue reflects a growing national conflict around water rights and raises a number of questions that are worth exploring in more depth.

Otakiri Springs currently has a consent to take 1200 m3 (1,200,000 L) of water per day specifically for bottling. One report has Nongfu wanting to expand that to 5000m3. It costs them $2003 per year for administration costs on the consent, but they pay nothing for the actual water. The potential turnover with the current consent is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

To put it in context, a random survey of water consents on the Rangitaiki Plains shows that there are dairy farms with much bigger daily allocations than 1200 m3. Dairy farming covers 80% of the plains and at least 10% of the plains is under irrigation. Like the water bottlers, farmers pay consent administration costs but nothing for the water that they use.

Is farming a better use than drinking? The water bottling takes a litre of water, puts it in a plastic bottle and ships it overseas. Dairying, on the other hand, takes close to 1000L of water to make 1L milk, although most of that is not from irrigation. One estimate suggests that across NZ as a whole about 160L of irrigation water go into each L of milk – although it varies from region to region. Ironically most of that milk is dried into powder and exported.

Water bottling has some serious environmental impacts, mostly from the waste from single use plastic bottles. Milk also comes in disposable containers – either plastic bottles or non-recyclable tetrapacks – but has some added environmental problems. Pastoral farming, as a whole, and dairy farming, in particular, is probably the most significant cause of New Zealand’s most serious environmental problems, from climate change to water degradation to soil loss.

Just this January a permanent warning has gone up not to eat pipi from the Waiotahe estuary due to contamination from local dairy farms. While many farmers are trying their best to reduce their environmental impacts, the sheer scale of dairy farming and the increasing intensification (often associated with irrigation) overwhelms these individual efforts.

On the other hand, dairy farming has more significant economic benefits than water bottling. The dairy industry supports a whole load of spin-off businesses that feed money through the local economy. Dairy farms also provide local jobs. Nongfu claims there will be 50 jobs in the bottling plant but it is hard to take that seriously. 50 jobs building the plant, maybe, but once it is up and running no doubt it will be an automated operation with a skeleton crew to oversee and maintain it. There is very little in the way of a supporting industry sector around water bottling.

Probably one of the things that concerns most people, and is the spark for the current debate, is the foreign ownership. Once Otakiri Springs is sold, all the profits will all be siphoned off-shore. This is also true for the increasing number of dairy farms owned off-shore. I do not believe that it is wise to allow New Zealand’s most precious resources – our land and our water – to be owned by overseas interests. I do not oppose all overseas investment, which can bring substantial benefits in terms of new capital, technology transfer and economic diversification. It is an argument for some limits.

The second major issue is the free use of our best water. It is a fallacy to say, as the Government does, that water is owned by no one. Water is owned by everyone, including the non-human users of it. It is a common wealth and should be treated as such, by making sure that anyone who makes a profit from water pays a resource rental back to the community. The rate would be fairly low, but high quality water, for example from the Otakiri aquifer, should attract a higher charge than non-potable water from shallow aquifers.

A resource rental has two benefits. Firstly it puts a price on commercial use of water. This drives more efficient use, in terms of water conservation and also in terms of shifting to higher value uses. There is little reason to use water efficiently when you pay nothing for it.

Secondly, a resource rental generates a fund that can be used in a variety of ways. It could off-set rates, to compensate for the new costs. Alternatively, it could be used to fund the management and restoration of our waterways, administered by a community organisation comprising mana whenua, commercial users, recreational users and environmentalists.

There is not much that can be done about any of this by the local council. The Regional Council deals with water consents and their hands are more or less tied by national legislation. To resolve it will take courage and leadership from the Government. I am not holding my breath.

(Published in the Whakatane Beacon 10 March 2017)

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Whakatane Social Sector Forum proposal

PRESS RELEASE 12/9/2016

Nāndor launches Social Sector Forum idea for Whakatāne

Nāndor Tānczos today launched the third of his ‘great ideas for Whakatāne’, this time focused on community development.

“There are some awesome social sector organisations around Whakatāne, but there is no regular forum for them all to share what they do with each other and talk about how they can work more effectively together. This lack of coordination makes it hard for organisations to create the synergy that comes from strategic coordination”.

“By supporting the different social agencies working in Whakatāne to get together on a regular basis, to share information and coordinate their services, council could do something useful for the community sector without spending a lot of money” said Nāndor.

The idea for the Social Sector Forum came out of discussions with a number of people working in the community, who described the difficulty of any single agency pulling such an initiative together. Yet just as the Halo Project has drawn a number of environmental organisations together around some common themes, the social agencies could benefit from taking a more coordinated approach guided by a broad common vision. The Council is in a prime position to take that role.

“It is not council’s role to do community work. It is a council role to support the community to be its best. This kind of social infrastructure is just as important as roads, drains and pipes but would cost almost nothing – just a venue and some facilitation.” he said

“Having a healthy, connected community is in everyone’s interests. Helping to support that is an investment in our future, in terms of making Whakatāne a more attractive place to visit and to live, increasing social cohesion, building resilience, and reducing crime. Once again Whakatāne has an opportunity to show leadership to the whole country with some fresh thinking and some political leadership”.

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Four Point Solar Plan for Whakatane

Press Release 21/7/2016

Nandor Tanczos today officially confirmed that he is standing for Whakatane District Council with the launch of a Solar Plan for Whakatane.

The four point plan makes use of one of Whakatane District’s biggest natural assets to boost economic activity and cut costs for households and the council.

“We talk alot about Whakatane being the sunshine capital, but we do almost nothing with that” said Nandor.

“We can use the energy of the sun to drive business activity, grow jobs and improve community well-being. It is this kind of ‘bright green’ thinking that will ensure a more prosperous future for Whakatane.”

The four part plan is to:

1. Work with other agencies (eg Eastern Bay Energy Trust, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, ethical financial institutions etc) to create a revolving credit fund to pay for solar hot water installations in low to medium income households. The loan will be paid off from all or part of the savings on the household power bill. Once the loan is repaid, all savings will go to the household.

2. Install solar photovoltaic panels and/or solar hot water on public buildings, where these will result in net savings to council. In addition, invest in energy efficiency and conservation measures to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions.

3. Work with local education providers and solar businesses to create a centre of solar excellence in Whakatane District. This will equip locals for sustainable jobs, boost local education providers and drive solar innovation as a catalyst for local business opportunity.

4. Establish a bi-annual solar and kinetic sculpture competition and symposium, working with engineers, electricians and artists to create public art. This has the potential to become an international event, adding to Whakatane’s attraction as a tourist destination and fostering Whakatane’s reputation as a creative place to live and work.

The four part solar plan makes use of the natural cycles of the sun to maximise benefits for different kinds of users. Because the sun shines during the day, when most people are out of the house, solar hot water is a great way for households to store solar energy without having to invest in expensive battery banks. For most commercial and public buildings, however, electricity is being used at the same time as their photovoltaic solar panels are generating it. This means that big battery banks are not needed.

“Being the sunshine capital of NZ is nice, but it is no real achievement. Becoming a solar centre, as a step towards building a diverse and sustainable economy, would be showing leadership to the whole country” said Nandor.

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