Mayor of Central Otago says - Penalise abusers, not users, of water

Before I write another word, I need to make two very clear points. Firstly; I am outraged that New Zealand's waterways have been degraded over the last decade or two to the point that many are unswimmable and/or devoid of wildlife. This should never have happened and, as a nation, we must work together to fix this.

Secondly; I am apolitical. Any comments I make here in relation to Labour's proposed irrigation tax/royalty would be made by me whether the idea was coming from Labour, National, Greens or whoever. My job is to stand up, as I see best, for Central Otago, no matter who is on the other side.

On that basis; I wrote a letter to Jacinda Ardern pointing out what I saw as the unfairness of the irrigation tax/royalty as proposed by Labour, but set in a tone of "something needs done". I stand by the comments I made in that letter.

To me, the irrigation tax/royalty as proposed is simply unfair on Central Otago as the driest district in New Zealand.

Let me explain why by way of analogy. If a party was to decide that something needed to be done about our high road toll and decreed that the best means of doing that was to put a tax on all white cars and then apply that tax to building better roads, I am sure you would agree that there would be a lack of logic and fairness.

In the first place, not all white-car owners will be speeders or drunks etc contributing to the high road toll (although obviously some would be). It would be unfair therefore that the white car owners pay to make better roads to help solve the problem.

Worse still though is that the tax on the white car users would have absolutely no effect on the habits of the people who speed or drink-drive in all the other colours of car. The irrigation tax/royalty is targeting the users not the abusers of water and that to me is, as I may have mentioned a few times already, unfair.

The unfairness is heightened in my view when one looks at the degradation of waters in the southern half of New Zealand. This week, a national fishing group (The Federation of Freshwater Anglers) released a list of rivers which it says are now unable to be fished because of water quality and flow issues.

Of the 25 rivers from Timaru south described as "lost" to anglers by the group, only one (the Lindis) is in the Central Otago District and Otago Fish and Game chief executive Niall Watson stated "a minimum flow process for the Lindis River would hopefully deal with water allocation issues there".

As has been pointed out by many others; our nation's worst polluted waterways are in Regions and Districts that don't irrigate at all, so the tax/royalty will put nothing into the coffers to address the damage there. In essence; the irrigation tax/royalty is a reverse tax on rainfall. Those areas that get good rainfall don't need to irrigate and therefore don't get taxed, no matter the state of their waterways.

In replying to my letter, the Labour leader along with David Parker (Water Spokesperson) and Damien O'Connor (Primary Industries Spokesperson) stated that the tax/royalty would be " flexible enough to reflect the scarcity of abundance of water in different regions, the different quality of water in different regions, and its use".

All three of those criteria work to Central's benefit but to me, no matter how the tax/royalty is ameliorated, it still does not place the cost of the degradation on those causing the damage, and that is plain and simply unjust and unfair.

When my letter was reported by Stuff, I was very disheartened by the urban/rural split that developed in the comments section. Many of the commentators appeared to be of the view that the total blame for the water issues our country faces lie at the gumbooted feet of the farmer.

Don't get me wrong; I agree that some of it does. But much of the damage to our worst waterways are caused by intensification not of cows or other stock, but of people.

This point was very well made last week by a local farmer who addressed a public meeting in Alexandra showing pollution read-outs for the two creeks on his property being well below the readings found from a river downstream of one of our towns.

This is not solely a rural problem, nor an urban problem.

It is a New Zealand problem that we are all going to have to address, be it through better farming practices or better urban infrastructure. Targeting one sector to pay the price is not fair.