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Save Our Wai – why all the fuss about the Otakiri Water Bottling Plant?!

On 9th December 2019 the day before Whakaari blew its top, the Environmental Court decision on the cases between Sustainable Otakiri Inc. and Cresswell (NZ) Limited was released with a 2:1 decision in favour of Cresswell.

Unfortunately we are still in a paradigm where commercial interests tend to take precedence over enironmental or social impacts. Given the tragedy of the Whakaari/White Island eruption, this Environment Court decision went unnoticed by many, and certainly has not been top of mind for the Whakatane community that it impacts. At this stage, Te Runanga o Ngāti Awa (TRONA) are still considering the decision.

While this headlines give the impression that all is lost, it is not. Sustainable Otakiri Inc can lodge an appeal to the High Court to further challenge this decision. Sustainable Otakiri believes there is still a strong case to be argued on the grounds that this is a significantly different scale of operation to what is currently there and should have been a publically notified process.

The Otakiri case case is one of many examples where our fresh water is at risk in New Zealand. The (now) shocking history  is that New Zealand government officials actively encouraged this fiasco. In this specific case Sustainable Otakiri is fighting to stop a small boutique water bottling plant in the Bay of Plenty from expanding to an industrial scale plastic bottle production factory.

Otakiri Springs currently operates in a building just over 1300sqm, bottles premium water mainly into glass and is able to produce 8,000 bottles an hour in a 16 hour shift.
What Cresswell (NZ) Ltd wants to do is build a new building of 16,800sqm by bowling 5.5ha of working kiwifruit orchard to create a massive, plastic-bottle-making factory. This will allow them to produce up to 3.7 million plastic bottles per day for export to China. This will add 200 truck journeys to the Tauranga Port 6 days a week, putting additional strain on already congested roading infrastructure.

There are already so many water bottling plants in New Zealand that you may not be aware of…most of which have rights to take much more than what they are currently taking, with intentions to do so.

Pump water, the most commonly consumed bottled water in New Zealand, is owned by Coca-cola and takes most of it’s water from two artesian sources:in the North Island, Pump water is bottled at the source from Te Waihou (also known as the Blue Springs), which lies near the foot of the Kaimai Ranges. In the South Island, Pump is sourced from the Wainoni Spring, found near Christchurch. 

This whole issue is about more than a stopping a local water bottling plant selling out to a Chinese multinational. This is also about water governance on a broader scale. We need to wake up to the consequences we are facing of having a political and legal system that no longer supports what is will be required going forward as New Zealand adjusts to the enormous challenges and uncertainties created by Climate Change.  

The current system allocates water on a first-in first-served basis, whether it be for irrigation or water bottling. Communities in Northland are currently facing signicant concerns over the growing avocado industry and its proposed water take to support growers. Let’s not get started on the dairy industry.

Business (often big) interests are being served ahead of the general community as typically this is where the money and power reside. In New Zealand, the “cost” of water to water bottlers is less than a cent per cubic metre, yet typically residents pay around $1.50 for the same amount of water piped to their homes. And time after time we hear of communities needing to boil water due to contamination or to conserve water due to shortages. 

This issue is affecting communities all over the world – where large commercial entities and large scale agricultural industries are “buying” up water rights for their own profit, to the real detriment of those communities that should be able to rely on a good clean water source. Just recently an Australian school has had to pay to truck in water while they watch their own water drive on down the road to bottling plants for companies including Coca-Cola. In other parts of Australia, a Canadian pension fund has the rights to 89,000 megalitres of Australian water which will use it to irrigate almonds and a Chinese-owned company has been granted approval to run another large scale commercial water mining operation. Meanwhile residents face a complete ban on hoses, requiring residents to use a bucket and sponge to wash their cars or a watering can to tend to their gardens. And this was before the recent fires. Residents in small town America have been fighting Nestle, and many parts of India are drought stricken while the water is used to grow cotton.

Water is LIFE. It is not a resource to be mined, sold or traded. It is not like gold This concept is taking a while to sink into the hearts, let alone the minds, of our decision makers and influencers, particularly within central government and regional councils.

Lodging this appeal with the High Court allows time for a more unified voice to be heard to urge the changes required to ensure that water is treated with the respect and protection required. The governance of water needs to be in the hands of our genuine wisdom holders and nature listeners, those who really understand the catchment they live and breath in.

And changes are afoot..public pressure is mounting, iwi are choosing the environment over the “promised” financial prosperity and some of our leaders are stepping up.

Christchurch City Council, under Vicky Buck’s leadership has supported Aotearoa Water Action’s (AWA) case against Environment Canterbury (ECan) – claiming they failed to follow proper processes in giving permission to Cloud Ocean Water and Rapaki Natural Resources to take water from neighbouring bottling plants in Belfast. This case went to the High Court in Christchurch in December 2019 and we are awaiting the outcome. 

In October 2019, local iwi rejected a water bottling plant proposal at Murapara. 

Locals in Upper Hutt really kicked up a fuss in June 2019 over a consent granted six years ago to bottle water in the city that went unnoticed because the Wellington Regional Council refused to publicly notify it. In November 2019 Greater Wellington Regional Council made a submission on the Resource Management Act Bill 2019 urging government to do more about water taken for bottling purposes, and to encourage a national response to manage water take consents. The language used was unambiguous:

“The take and use of water for bottling purposes is posing challenges to regional councils across the country with many communities and iwi raising concerns about the use of water for this purpose.

“The RMA planning process is too slow in reflecting what is most important to our people. As we have seen this year, councils carrying out consenting for water bottling have been hamstrung by current legislation.”

Time is running out for Sustainable Otakiri and us all. We have one last chance to make a difference.

Please, support this appeal to continue this fight to Save our Wai in the Bay of Plenty, in whatever way you can – donate before 20 Jan 2020 if you are able; encourage others to donate if they are able. Spread the word and speak up. Remind your local councillors and government representatives wherever you are that Water is LIFE.


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Water Crisis Resources and Media Coverage

‘Blame game’ taking place as Far North plagued with water issues

Bore use restricted as Northland coastal aquifer levels plummet

Iwi pulls plug on water bottling project

Health expert renews call for study on nitrates in drinking water


Who else is active in this Crisis?