Who Owns Our Water?

When I saw this heading in huge capitals on a one-page article in the NZ Herald…



my first thought was “could this be an article about how Pakeha colonists have taken over the country’s natural water sources and used, abused, bought, sold, polluted , drained and destroyed so many, and an appeal by Maori for us to cooperate with them in restoring our water sytems to their former health?”

But no, it was a carefully constructed page of emotive, misleading and down-right dishonest comments aimed at frightening ordinary people into distrusting government attempts , in partnership with Maori, to do something constructive about the mess we have made of our waterway management.

These full-page advertisements are appearing in newspapers throughout the country, and include such ‘gems’ (germs, actually) as:


… most kiwis would be horrified if they knew that National is planning to give away control of our lakes and rivers to iwi….

…We think it is only a matter of time before iwi demand a royalty every time a tap is turned on…


If Maori leaders gain control of New Zealand’s fresh water, it will be forever. By remaining silent you will be allowing this to happen and it will be future generations that pay the price.

I am appalled at the dishonest and fear-mongering of this Keep Water Kiwi campaign (see NZ Herald, Saturday 16 April, page A26) authorised by the self-styled New Zealand Centre for Political Research (See final paragraph below for details about the people involved in this organisation).

The truth about water claims

Many claims have been lodged with the Waitangi Tribunal for the return of traditional water rights which have been overruled, and/or remediation of damage to traditional water sources.

When European settlers first arrived, Maori  shared their natural water sources freely.  Like land, water was seen as a gift, to be used mindfully and protected for future generations.  But iwi have not been able to protect springs and streams, rivers or lakes,  from the impacts of drainage schemes, dams, city water systems, pollution from farming, industry, transport and sewage, and- more recently – from the commercial water bottling industry.  Many New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha,  are deeply concerned about the state of our fresh water resources.

At no time have Maori – leaders or iwi – demanded the right to charge ordinary Pakeha users for normal sharing of local water sources for day-to-day use.

They do, quite rightly  however, object to some farmers continuing to pour dairy-shed waste into rivers, or a town draining water from the supply traditionally available to a local marae till the stream dries up, or pouring effluent into it till it becomes unusable, and then charging the marae to deliver water back through taps.  And, along with many Pakeha, they resent commercial firms being given 35 year permits to draw billions of gallons a year from a pool, river or aquifer to put into plastic

bottles and sell overseas.

What Maori are asking for, through the Tribunal and the Iwi Leaders’ Forum, is the right to be involved in the management of our ‘shared’  freshwater resources – many of which have been taken away from Maori and used to enrich Pakeha, and are now effectively ‘owned ‘ by those who make money from using the water:  hydro-electric power companies, bottling firms, farmers and many other commercial and industrial users.

Co-management schemes such as those developed for the Waikato River can only enrich all of us- the  Tainui iwi, for example,  are ensuring that river-edge planting to reduce effluent seepage,  and land-based sewage treatment schemes, will eventually improve the seriously degraded quality of the water. Other iwi are helping in the construction of fish passes, deflective barriers to prevent fish being sucked into turbines, and fish ladders for up-stream migration to allow safe migration of fish to and from spawning areas in rivers with dams.

If schemes like these cost money, it is entirely appropriate that the councils and governments and businesses which have allowed the damage to water sources to occur should  contribute to restoring their health.  And if money is being charged for water use, shouldn’t it be shared with the people from whom the water is being taken?

The truth about the NZ Centre for Political Research

As for the New Zealand Centre for Political Research, by all means go to their website if you want to read articles dismissing the Treaty of Waitangi, complaining about Maori privilege (not, you will notice, about Pakeha privilege or wealth or the Panamaniacal antics of  very rich tax-evaders), dismissing climate change, and generally contributing to the negatives on every pressing social and environmental  issue facing Aotearoa today.  Names of many of  the writers will be familiar to many New Zealanders too:  Muriel Newman, Don Brash, David Round, Hugh Barr, Ron Smith and their like..

Such a pity that the money spent on this campaign isn’t being directed into giving schools sets of Tamsin Hanly’s “Critical Histories” materials so that all our children can grow up better educated than their parents about our shared history.



  1. Charmaine perhaps you could form a like mind group or even on your own print the above comments widely. Not to do surely enables the other group to dominate the minds if the reader. Just a thought

  2. John Edgar says

    Thank you both for taking on this huge issue. Fresh water is the problem, not just for New Zealand, but for the world. I will be happy to the involved with you in this. John Edgar

  3. Susana David says

    Dear Charmaine,

    Could you contribute to the debate ” from the Mountains to the sea ” that is going on in the

    Wellington, Wairarapa region right now? PLEASE, PLEASE,. PLEASE.

    It is about keeping our rivers clean.

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