TOP Releases Hard-Hitting Freshwater Policy

Successive governments have failed protect our freshwater: we need systemic change – TOP releases hard-hitting freshwater policy

Wai Ora, TOP’s freshwater policy will:


  • Ensure commercial water users – including foreign-owned bottling plants and water intensive farmers – pay a fair price for water consumption – and use the money to pay for the cleaning of waterways
  • Progress conversations with Tiriti o Waitangi partners, primarily iwi Māori and resolve ownership rights in relation to freshwater
  • Enforce nitrogen bottom line of 1mg per litre – a minimum standard not enjoyed by many Cantabrians currently, a region which experiences high bowel cancer rates
  • Establish a permanent, independent freshwater commission to set guidelines for regional councils to measure, manage, and protect freshwater quality 



Christchurch, August 6th, 2020 – The Opportunities Party (TOP) today launches its freshwater policy, Wai Ora, which will see commercial water users and polluters targeted and water ownership rights progressed with Tiriti partners to lead to the sustainable use and protection of water in Aotearoa. 

Wai Ora was launched outside the Chinese-owned Cloud Ocean water bottling plant in Christchurch, which has a resource consent worth NZD$4.3 billion per year to extract 1.5 billion litres per year for overseas sale. In 2018, Cloud Ocean drilled a 170m deep bore hole into the city aquifer despite warnings that it could interfere with the public water supply. Cloud Ocean does not pay for the water they extract.

Mismanagement, ignorance and a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude has seen central government and regional councils standby while New Zealand’s pristine freshwater environment has been run into the ground, says TOP leader and former Treasury economist Geoff Simmons. Aotearoa’s freshwater resources have been mismanaged to such a degree it has led to a criminal overallocation of water use and dangerously high nitrate levels in our rivers and aquifers.

“For over 30 years, central government and regional councils in New Zealand have overseen a massive decline of freshwater health but have been successfully lobbied by big agriculture organisations to dilute badly needed regulation,” says Simmons. “Enough is enough.” 

“We have this crazy situation where overseas companies are bottling billions of litres which they have acquired for free, and taking all of the profits offshore,” says Simmons. “Fixing this issue is absolutely possible if we get over the fantasy that nobody owns water. We need to have a long-overdue discussion with treaty partners about water rights. This conversation has sat in the too hard basket for too long, and everyone is losing.”

The Waitangi Tribunal has found that the government’s failure to appropriately manage freshwater, to prevent its ongoing decline in quality and to provide for Māori to make decisions about its management is a breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. TOP’s position is that the government cannot allocate water use rights to anybody else until the rights of Māori have been addressed. 

Wai Ora would see TOP establish an independent commission, Te Mana o Te Wai, which would set national freshwater monitoring standards, audit regional and city councils, and monitor and target areas around the country where freshwater needs most urgent action. 

The area of irrigated agricultural land in New Zealand almost doubled between 2002 and 2017 from 384,000 to 747,000 hectares, but the total increase was largely impacted by Canterbury specifically. As of 2017, 64 percent of irrigated agricultural land was in the Canterbury region.

“Canterbury’s precious water is at risk from the wave of nitrate nitrogen coming through the system from farming up the catchment and land-use intensification,” says Simmons. “There’s zero accountability from the previous governments and Regional Council. Environment Canterbury (ECan) has passed the buck to farmers north of the Waimakariri and taken their hands off the wheel.”

Nitrates in drinking water has recently been linked with high rates of bowel cancer at concentrations around as low as 0.8mg per litre. In 2019, the Science Technical Advisory Group (STAG) concurred that there was overwhelming science to recommend an upper limit of 1mg per litre of nitrogen, but the limit was not accepted by the government who cited ‘dissenting views’. 

“TOP will put in place a nitrogen bottom line of 1mg per litre as recommended by the STAG,” says Simmons. “We’ll also put in place enforceable bottom lines for all other measures of ecosystem health as recommended by STAG. No waffly action plans.” 

Te Mana o Te Wai would create enforceable bottom lines around water use and quality. Famers would be encouraged to work together to improve water quality in their sub-catchments using farm plans. Commercial water users would be expected to give back to the waterways they are taking water from - to ensure they stay healthy. 

“We need our farming community – they are the backbone of our economy, but we also need to change our ways of working and fast. Through working alongside our farming community on freshwater standards, as well as providing incentives, we can make the change required.”

All of these issues are inter-connected.  Water quality, land use, water quantity allocation and loss of freshwater habitat are all related and they need to be addressed holistically, ki uta ki tai – looking at the whole catchment.