Labour to charge dairy farmers for water use

Farmers, horticulturalists and politicians have weighed in on Labour's new water policy, raising concerns about the impact on businesses and the regions.

Earlier on Tuesday, Labour announced its plans to charge bottlers and farmers for their water use and recruit unemployed youth to help improve water quality in New Zealand.

National Party campaign manager Steven Joyce said the policy is lacking in specificity, and said it would hit regional economies hard.

"Regions like Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury and Otago would be big losers from a policy that taxes water used by food producers that create a lot of the jobs in those regions."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said "A charge on irrigation water will make our primary exports less competitive and the cost of groceries will go up as meat, milk and cheese prices rise to meet farmers increased costs. It will also affect fruit and vegetables."

Federated Farmers water spokesperson Chris Allen said the organisation believes royalties on irrigation water will drive up prices and put Kiwi products at a disadvantage to imports.

He said Federated Farmers welcomed the policy to employ young people to work on improving water quality, and would meet with Labour to consult on the royalties proposal and "talk them through all the downsides of what they're proposing in a rational way".

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said the policy was too light on detail. "Today's statement does not provide sufficient detail about Labour's intentions, which should be made clear prior to the election. We don't feel it is enough to say that if Labour forms the next Government, there will be a conversation about water within the first 100 days."

"There's farming in my family" - Ardern

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said at the policy launch in Auckland "Clean water is the birth-right of all of us. I want future generations to be able to swim in the local river, just like I did."

"[We] will employ young people off the dole and give them work improving the environment, including fencing waterways, riparian planting, and other work to improve water quality."

Flexible royalties for water use would be introduced, and most of the money collected would be returned to regional councils to help with the cost of keeping water clean.

The royalty fee would depend on the scarcity of water in the region, the quality of the water and what it's being used for. Bottlers would be charged per litre for the water they bottle and per 1000 litres of water used for irrigation.

Ms Ardern said the party will work with iwi to resolve Treaty claims "In a manner that respects iwi's mana, and restores the mauri of our rivers and lakes."

She promised to hold a roundtable discussion on the water policy in Labour's first 100 days if it was in Government.

Farmers would be required to fence all intensively stocked land near waterways with riparian planting within five years to absorb silt and nutrients before they flow into water.

Ms Arden sought to reassure farmers who are worried. "There's farming in my family. I'm committed to working collaboratively with farmers to find a workable solution that ensures that they prosper in their profitability," she said.

"I will not set a rate until I've sat down with the farming community, the horticultural community, anyone who may be affected to make sure we get this right."

"Federated Farmers don't care about rivers and lakes" - Greenpeace

The policy has been welcomed by the Greens water spokesperson Catherine Delahunty, who said the MOU parties share plenty of common ground on their water policies. "We need to change the Government if we want to ensure rivers we can swim in and water we can drink for future generations," she said.

Greenpeace NZ head Russell Norman has welcomed Labour's new policy, and says many farmers have been waiting for the Government to lead on water policy.

Mr Norman said in response to concerns from Federated Farmers that "New Zealanders have listened for a long time to Federated Farmers and their views about water pollution, and I think now they form their own opinion that Federated Farmers don't care about rivers and lakes."