Sell Christchurch’s water idea falls flat with city councillors

Aaron Keown wants to sell off the city's water to lower rates.

City councillor Aaron Keown’s idea to sell water to lower rates is likely to become an election issue.

Cr Keown is getting little support from his council colleagues over his plan for the city council and Ngai Tahu to bottle and sell water overseas to reduce rates and fund projects.

They have accused him of electioneering.

His idea comes as Chinese water bottling company Cloud Ocean Water has permission to take 1.57 billion litres of water a year from two bores in Belfast. It paid $2277 for its resource consent applications.

The company does not have to pay for the water it draws.

But Cr Keown told The Star yesterday the lack of support for his plan from fellow councillors could backfire on them in the October local body elections.

“It’s not electioneering. What it is, is a deliberate set up to help weed out councillors who are devoid of positive ideas.”

If he did not get the support it would become an election issue. Voters could turn against them, he said.

City councillors Mike Davidson, Jamie Gough, Sara Templeton, Yani Johanson and Phil Clearwater told The Star yesterday they did not support Cr Keown’s idea.

Said Cr Davidson: “I guess it is election year, so we’re going to see a bit of this kind of thing. To me, the main thing is making sure we can protect our water instead of looking at get rich quick schemes.”

Cr Gough said the idea sounded “appealing to the masses” but is unworkable in practical terms.

“The reality is it would be infinitely more complex than the supporting sound bites would suggest.”

Cr Johanson said he understood where the idea came from but did not think profiteering off water was in the city’s best interest.

“The question isn’t could we, but should we. Not only could it put our water supply at risk, but

it would potentially mean a billion additional, unnecessary plastic bottles,” Cr Templeton said.

However, city councillors Glenn Livingstone and Raf Manji both said they could see merit in the idea.

But Cr Livingstone questioned the timing of Cr Keown’s ideas in an election year. While he saw merit in it, he believed the plan was “half-baked” and would not support it.

Cr Manji said the idea was worth exploring.

“We should have the conversation,” he said.

Yesterday, The Star also took a snap poll of Christchurch residents to see what they thought of the plan.

Feedback was divided.

Fendalton’s Rhett Mason was firmly opposed to the idea as it was not sustainable.

He also said Cr Keown is an “archival grandstander” who wants to get re-elected.

But Joan Haines of Papanui supported his plan as long as residents were guaranteed an infinite water supply.

“It seems ironic that we already give it away and we are just starting to think about what else we can do with it.”

Former Mayor Garry Moore said it was an “excellent publicity stunt” but the idea had no legs.

“It would turn our pristine water into an environmental disaster,” he said.

“We need to ask ourselves why the environmental cost to the planet has not been considered.”

The lobby group which is taking legal action in the High Court against water bottling consents Aotearoa Water Action spokesman Peter Richardson said it was a “dreadful” idea.

“Continues the idea of commercialising water instead of looking at the long term . . . it’s a short-term mindset rather than ecological wisdom.”

To off-set any environmental impact, Cr Keown said recycled glass would be used to bottle the water.

“We need to be a smart economy. Our economy doesn’t have a golden goose like Norway’s oil, but it does have water.”


  1. Provided it was done in sound commercial way and the benefits were used to offset the constantly escalating rates it would have to be one of the best ideas our normally moribund Councillors have ever mooted.
    We should also look at either cancelling the the existing resource consent for the Chinese bottlers , or alternatively, charge a commercial levy on the water taken.