Anger rises in New Zealand as lakes are tapped for bottled water

Concern among Kiwis is growing fast as they worry about large corporations over-exploiting their waters. Photo credit: Alamy Stock Photo

A recently-proposed plan to draw millions of litres of water from a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) world heritage site has ignited a firestorm in New Zealand and led to a campaign over the nation’s water resources.

Export company, Alpine Pure, has proposed a plan to gather 800 million litres (800,000 tonnes) of “untapped icy water a month from the Southern Alps fed by rainfall, Lake Minim Mere and Lake Greaney, located at the borders of the Mount Aspiring National Park.

The pure water, “untouched by man”, as the company put it, would be pushed through a 20km-long underground pipeline to a reservoir located at Jackson Bay, on the West Coast. There, the water would be processed for consumption.

From the reservoir, the water would be pumped through another two-kilometre pipeline to a wharf, there a range of tanker ships would be docked, waiting to transport the bottled water in bulk to overseas markets in the Middle East, India, and China.

Although Alpine Pure is in the process of getting the required resource consent for the pipeline from the Westland District Council and has the authorisation to draw the water, green groups are urging the government to intercede and safeguard the country’s freshwater springs and lakes. However, Alpine Pure has claimed that it will only be taking a portion of the water that comes as rainfall on the Southern Alps.

Managing Director of Alpine Pure, Bruce Nisbet, commented in an interview with The Guardian, “We’ve had a lot of interest in this proposal for overseas companies, and a couple of times we’ve started chilling the champagne. Pristine water has been falling on the Southern Alps for a million years, and it would usually be wasted by flowing directly out to sea. The amount we want to take is very small.”

But the plan has come at a time where water resources are getting more and more susceptible to contamination and pollution scares and growing resentment over multinational companies (MNCs) like Coca-Cola extracting millions of litres of water from ancient subterranean aquifers at low costs.

The bulk of New Zealand’s bottled water comes from Blue Spring, Putaruru, where Coca-Cola Amatil also operates a bottling factory. The spring is world-famous for its clarity and colour, and is categorised as a natural treasure, or Taonga, in the native tongue.

Blue Spring, Putaruru, New Zealand. Photo Credit: The Guardian

However, though Blue Spring supplies the majority of New Zealand’s bottled water industry, other organisations are increasingly looking elsewhere in New Zealand for uncontaminated water supplies, which is behind the recent move to access the waters of Lake Minim Mere and Lake Greaney.

“We are handing over this precious, finite resource and it is disappearing offshore. And that is really upsetting for Kiwis who have seen the increasing water degradation of their own supplies over the last 20 years,” the Green Party’s Spokesperson for water, Catherine Delahunty, said.

With the public pressure rising, Bill English, the Prime Minister of New Zealand has stated that the government will engage a panel of water experts to probe the issue of whether bottled water slated for exportation overseas should be charged. “We do accept there’s growing public concern about it, that’s why we want to refer it off to this group to look at what if any reasonable options there are.”

Source: The Guardian