The amount of water exported in bottles is so small that it is irrelevant to the important discussion on better managing New Zealand’s freshwater resources, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

“We use a million times more water for irrigation, town water supply and industry than that for bottled export. Bottled water exports are such a small fraction that it is a distraction to the important debate about how New Zealand better manages its freshwater resources.”

New Zealand’s annual freshwater resource is 500 trillion litres of which 2 per cent, or 10 trillion litres,  is extracted. Statistics New Zealand reports that last year 8.7 million litres of bottled water was exported, down from 9.8 million litres in 2015. This means bottled export is 0.000002 per cent of the total water resource or 0.0001 per cent of the total water extracted.

“There is a real fairness problem with charging bottled water for export and not other water users. It would be odd from a health perspective to be charging a company bottling water, but not charging for the company that makes fizzy drink or beer. Nor would it make economic sense to charge the company bottling water for export, but not the company using the water to produce wine or milk. There may be a better return for New Zealand with less environmental problems in exporting the water rather than spraying it on land, adding fertiliser and producing milk noting that each litre of milk takes an average 400 litres of water to produce. The argument that the water bottling company may be foreign does not hold water when many larger water users in other industries like dairying and wine also have overseas investment.

“Freshwater management in New Zealand does need to improve. We have introduced a requirement for Councils to set minimum flow requirements in our waterways and compulsory metering. This has resulted in a significant number of red zones where further water extraction is prohibited.

“A technical advisory group is working on how New Zealand can better allocate freshwater and will be reporting back to Government by year’s end. The key to reform will be ensuring it is based on sound science and good data.”

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