Who owns the Waikato River? Townies or Farmers

Gareth MorganEnvironment

The above photos were taken over the past week in the Waikato region. If someone can use water and someone else can’t – when they both take water from the same river – it tells us someone has ownership rights and others don’t.

Fresh water is already owned

As we pointed out in our blog last week, our fresh water is already owned. This is all the more obvious when fresh water becomes scarce. We will see this situation happening more in the future as irrigation schemes expand and climate change increases the frequency of droughts. When fresh water becomes scarce, some people are able to use water while others can’t – in this case farmers are still irrigating but town folk face sprinkler bans. Clearly some people have greater rights over the Waikato River water supply than others.

Conversions continue in the Upper Waikato

These irrigation photos were taken in Broadlands – the Upper Waikato Catchment. This is the area where a further 24,000 ha of pine has been converted to pasture. Around 20% of it is irrigated as per these photos – so far. Given this land is recently converted, we are yet to see the impact of this change in land use on fresh water quality.

From these photos it seems that the farmers of the Upper Waikato have greater rights over the Waikato River than the folk of Cambridge. What gives them that right is beyond us – they certainly aren’t paying for it and the people of Cambridge aren’t getting anything out of it either. Is that right?

How do we manage when the water runs out?

It is time to wake up to the fact that our water supply is already owned, and start to talk about how we manage water in times of scarcity. The priority of course should be to make sure that people’s rights to essential water supplies are secured, and that the environmental integrity of our fresh water is not compromised.

Beyond that we can work out how to use any surplus water – presumably we want to get the most economic benefit that we can from our limited fresh water resource. This would be achieved by trading use rights to fresh water. Such a trading system would also allow a rental to be charged, which could generate revenue to reinvest back into improving our rivers.

It might end up that irrigating dairy farms is the right economic answer for our increasingly scarce water supply. But let’s have a transparent system for working that out, and at the same time we can make sure the public are benefitting from having their water supply privatised by stealth.




Who owns the Waikato River? Townies or Farmers was last modified: December 15th, 2015 by Gareth Morgan
About the Author

Gareth Morgan

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Gareth Morgan is a New Zealand economist and commentator on public policy who in previous lives has been in business as an economic consultant, funds manager, and professional company director. He is also a motorcycle adventurer and philanthropist. Gareth and his wife Joanne have a charitable foundation, the Morgan Foundation, which has three main stands of philanthropic endeavour – public interest research, conservation and social investment.