Mark Sainsbury: It's time to stop giving away our lifeblood

Bottled water
Where there's water, there's money, says Mark Sainsbury (File)

OPINION: Water. We are surrounded by it, deluged by it, obsessed with it, yet do we even know enough about it?

Yesterday around the country there were protests in 19 towns over water, the general sense being that we are flogging off our life blood. Well, even worse really - we are more or less giving away this life blood.

The protests were sparse but vocal and there's also a 16,000-signature petition calling for a moratorium on all water exports, which Environment Minister Nick Smith has already rejected.

When it comes to water we take it personally and the concept that someone can buy business premises then suck out 700,000 litres of water a day for practically nothing makes us mad.

But according to Nick Smith we're mad to be mad about it at all. He says bottled water is a mere drop in the ocean and bottling plants account for only 0.00002 percent of our water use, and if we start charging bottling plants where would it end? We would then have to charge soft drink and beer makers who use water as well.

Well, I wonder whether that's such a bad thing.

We should be vigilant about water, and not just who's getting a free ride in the bottling business. The cleanliness of our waterways and how we deal with wastewater are all things we need to focus on.

Look at what happened in Mangawhai - the Northland town has a $63 million wastewater scheme it can't afford, which left residents facing hefty rate hikes.

Then head down to Westland, where the council's asset manager oversaw a $7 million wastewater contract awarded to a business run by a cake shop owner from south Auckland with zero experience in the field.

It's clear that where there's water, there's money.

But why do we take it so personally? We see it as unjust that people are profiting off our natural assets.

Yes, there may be bigger issues to deal with but do not underestimate the depth of feeling over this. Ignoring the protectors or treating them as ignorant will not help.

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.