Bottled water backlash

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REVELATIONS an Otakiri bottling company pays an annual fee of $2003 to take 700,000 litres of water per day has raised the ire of some in the community.

Otakiri Springs is being sold to Chinese company Nongfu Spring Natural Mineral Water but the sale has yet to be approved by the Overseas Investment Office.

The company’s right to sell water from the Tarawera aquifer for a profit and Nongfu’s plans to expand the business have drawn criticism, in particular from neighbour and Whakatane district councillor Mike van der Boom.

Mr van der Boom and his wife Sarah recently bought a property that shares a boundary with the Otakiri Springs site. He is one of what appears to be many Otakiri residents opposed to the sale and development.

Mr van der Boom said he attended a consultation meeting involving the community and Nongfu representatives on Tuesday and heard how the Chinese group wanted to expand the business.

He said the planned expansion would dramatically change the country feel of Otakiri.
“Firstly, I am morally against the taking of water for profit, and secondly I am concerned about the impact on our neighbourhood.

“From being a little sleepy road they are now going to have 94 trucks coming and going everyday between the hours of 7am and 7pm.”

He said the increase in truck traffic in the neighbourhood would convert it from “a place where people can walk their dogs along the road” to “almost a motorway”.

At present, Otakiri Springs consent allows it to take 158 cubic meters, or 158,000 litres, of water each day to irrigate a kiwifruit orchard on the business’ premises, and 700 cubic metres, or 700,000 litres, daily for bottling purposes.

The consent was awarded in 1979, at a cost of $99, before the introduction of the Resource Management Act. The company pays $2003 in annual compliance costs and the consent expires in 2026

Nongfu, through New Zealand subsidiary Cresswell NZ, has indicated it will apply for a new resource consent to take more water from the aquifer, an underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock. The company also wants to remove the on-site kiwifruit orchard to expand operations and is applying for resource consents from Whakatane District Council to build new buildings.

Chairman Zhong Shanshan, who visited Maori land trusts and hapu in December, said he was determined his family’s company would take a different approach to some other foreign-owned companies setting up businesses in New Zealand.

“We acknowledge the kaitiaki (guardians) of local hapu and iwi, as well as the interests of Otakiri neighbours and businesses in ensuring that this precious resource is managed appropriately and sustainably on behalf of the community.

“We are a newcomer to your community and as such we ask for your guidance in how we can best serve your community – and by serve, I mean make a meaningful contribution to the region and its people,” he said in a statement.

He said the company intended to employ 50 full-time staff once the plant was fully operational and was committed to hiring workers from the Otakiri and Te Teko communities.

“We want to make Otakiri and Te Teko our second hometown, our turangawaewae outside of China. At Nongfu Spring, we understand that stewardship of fresh spring water is a privilege, not a right, and brings with it many responsibilities.

“I also understand that while giving generously is important, being part of the community in which you work is more important.”Whakatane

Mayor Tony Bonne said he welcomed news of the expansion at Otakiri Springs.

“The exporting of bottled water is a contentious issue around the country and I know that many people worry about the depletion of a precious resource. However, the aquifers beneath the Rangitaiki Plains offer a very substantial water source, which I believe can support a bottling industry that is sustainable in the long-term if they are managed responsibly.”

News of the sale and expansion prompted criticism on social media.

Hineari Boynton-Nom said emptying bottled Otakiri water might be good protest action.

“Protest guarantees coverage, which in turn gets people talking.”
Anaru Fellowman Ranapia said resources such as water were “too valuable” and the Chinese market would “clean us out in no time”.

karla.akuhata@whakatanebeacon.co.nz

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