Plans to build NZ's biggest water-bottling plant

Plans have been submitted to build the largest water-bottling plant in New Zealand. 

A Kiwi firm, foreign investors and iwi are applying to bottle three million litres a year in Murupara, a remote Bay of Plenty town with a population of 1700.

Once a thriving timber-mill town, jobs are now scarce in Murupara, with almost a third of the town unemployed. But deep underground runs an river of pure water that could bring desperately needed jobs.

New Zealand Aquifer wants to build two bottling plants and is currently applying for consent from the local council. It wants to take 140 litres per second from the aquifer - that's 4 billion litres each year. It might sound like a lot, but the company argues that's just 16 percent of what the aquifer produces.

The town already taps into the aquifer, with unused water from the well flowing into the river. The bottling company wants to use the water they say is currently being wasted.

NZ Aquifer is Kiwi-owned, but more than half a billion dollars will come from a foreign investor, who is yet to be revealed. They'll need clearance from the Overseas Investment Office first. Local iwi Ngati-Manawa will lease the land and be a shareholder.

"Murupara, like many small communities and townships throughout New Zealand, is struggling," says iwi chairman Kani Edwards. "This is an opportunity - I would say a lifetime opportunity - where we can do something really positive and bring it back to life."

As well as those employed to build the plants, the project would create more than 500 full-time jobs and inject more than $300 million into the community each year. But some locals are concerned about sustainability and the environment.

Roydon Hartnett from NZ Pure Blue claims the water is so deep, it can't be polluted.

While in Opposition, Labour said it would tax water bottlers. NZ Aquifer says it's happy to pay a tax, as long as it's viable.

Work on the plant could begin as early as May, if it gets the go-ahead.