Government to investigate putting a price on exported water

The Government has written to its advisory group on water, telling it to investigate putting a price on exported water and to report back by the end of the year.

"We've written to the technical advisory group that's working on water allocation, and asking them to include in their considerations the issues around export water", Prime Minister Bill English said on Monday afternoon.

It comes amidst public and political pressure in recent weeks over the exporting of New Zealand water for sale overseas. 

"There is real public concern about foreign companies access to water, there's also a long-held, deep seated view among New Zealanders that no one owns it and it's free," Mr English said.

"We'd want to step through any process carefully so that's why we've written a letter today."

The technical advisory group is part of the Government's freshwater reform programme, jointly run by the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry for Primary Industries and Treasury, who have been working on issues about water and allocation since 2009.

"The issues around this are issues they will be very familiar with. Long before there was this level of public interest in water or water quality, in fact six or seven years ago, the Government launched a collaborative process designed to try and get to grips with the wide range of interests, and the challenging policy around water."

Mr English said there isn't going to be a simple solution, and charging for water would lead to questions about ownership. 

He said there are issues to consider about "Who gets to charge, who gets the revenue, what the charge might be, whether you can do that legally without establishing ownership of the water." 

"New Zealand's long held position has been no one owns the water and no one actually pays for water they pay for consents, they pay for infrastructure, but water in itself is free."

Water New Zealand Chief Executive John Pfahlert said water charges would raise questions about water usage in all forms, not just for bottled water exports.

"It would be wrong to charge for the use of water for bottling while allowing other resource holders to continue to extract water without those same charges being applied.

"For instance if we charged water bottling companies, should we also be charging farmers, industrial users and residential homeowners?

"It would also raise the question of iwi rights and interests."