Wednesday 29 March 2017

Everyone Owns The Water.

Ours - Not Yours: If water belongs to everyone, then immediately two principles become very clear. The first is that water can only ever be owned collectively – and never individually. The second is that whatever the collective entity in which public ownership is vested, be it the state or a local authority, public officials cannot ethically permit collectively owned water to be diverted for private profit without first extracting from the profit-seeker an appropriate fee for its use.
NO ONE OWNS THE WATER. It sounds so reasonable. How could anyone “own” water? It “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven”, according to Shakespeare, and is sent to fall “on the just and on the unjust”, if you believe the New Testament. Playing no part in its creation, what plausible claim could we, as human-beings, possibly advance for its ownership?
Well, that all depends on how human-beings organise themselves. A hunter-gatherer society takes its water pretty much as Mother Nature delivers it. From springs and streams and rivers, and directly, from the sky above.
Agricultural and/or pastoral societies, however, tend to take a much more proprietary view of water. Without a reliable water supply crops cannot flourish and herds die of thirst. The human-beings who live in these kinds of societies are not disposed to share “their” springs and streams and rivers with anyone – not without a fight.
And then there are the human-beings who live in cities. Without water, cities simply can’t exist. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the key capability which makes any sort of enduring civilisation possible is the ability to collect, transfer and distribute large quantities of water for the consumption and use of large numbers of human-beings. How would the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt have survived without their sophisticated systems of water storage and irrigation? Where would Rome have been without her aqueducts and cisterns?
Civilised Collectivism: Where would Rome have been without her aqueducts?
In a civilised society, the bald assertion that “no one owns the water” is, therefore, nonsense. Because, in a civilised society, water belongs to everyone.
But, if water belongs to everyone, then immediately two principles become very clear.
The first is that water can only ever be owned collectively – and never individually. (In the simplest terms, you can’t own it – because we own it.) The second principle is that whatever the collective entity in which public ownership is vested, be it the state or a local authority, public officials cannot ethically permit collectively owned water to be diverted for private profit without first extracting from the profit-seeker an appropriate fee for its use.
It is only when we work back from these first principles that the bitter controversy over the use (and misuse) of water which has arisen in New Zealand is explained. They make it all-too-clear why politicians and officials in the thrall of farmers – especially dairy farmers – are so determined to make us believe that: “no one owns the water”.
Like all good agriculturalists and pastoralists, New Zealand’s dairy farmers claim a proprietary interest in the springs, streams, rivers and aquifers which water their crops, preserve their herds and wash out their cowsheds.
Their problem, of course, is that they can’t claim ownership of these water sources openly because New Zealand isn’t ancient Mesopotamia or medieval England. They live in a society in which the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens dwell in towns and cities and where the collective ownership and protection of potable water constitutes the foundation of urban health and comfort.
Bluntly, the springs, streams, rivers and aquifers of New Zealand are not the de facto property of the farming sector, they belong to the whole nation. This is the truth that has, at all costs, to be kept hidden. So long as the whole nation can be hoodwinked into believing that they are not the collective owners of New Zealand’s water; so long as they adhere to the nonsensical notion that “no one owns the water”; so long will the farming sector go on extracting profit from this critical resource without paying a cent for the massive collateral environmental damage they’re causing.
This was the motivation behind the shutting down of Ecan, the Canterbury Regional Council; the reason why democracy has been suspended in that part of New Zealand for more than six years. So reckless had the greed and selfishness of the Canterbury farming community become that they were willing to strip their city-dwelling compatriots of their political rights rather than be denied the massive, publicly-subsidised, irrigation schemes that would make them and their neighbours rich.
When the Prime Minister’s brother, Conor English, shortly after National’s election victory in 2008, vouchsafed to me his prediction that the single biggest issue facing New Zealand for the next twenty years would be “water”, I thought he was joking.
He wasn’t.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 March 2017.


AB said...

Yes Chris - I have been banging on about this tediously to all and sundry for ages - including frustrated (and unread) txts to RNZ's Morning Report.

The other reason for resisting this obvious truth about collective ownership of water - the need in fact to drive it from people's minds - is that once it takes root, people might start applying it to other natural resources.
My favourite example is fish. Why would we grant companies the right to profit from our fish, return nothing to us in compensation and abuse the resource so that citizens cannot go down to the sea and with a modicum of skill and patience, reasonably expect to catch their own food in a sustainable way subject to bag limits?

And one final point. If citizenships comes with such important privileges as the communal ownership of water and fish, it is not something we should bestow lightly on everyone who wishes to come and live here.

Unknown said...

And the National Government will not come out of this water issue very well at all.

National, instead of looking like pure fresh rain drops, will look more like the dirty drips they are.

They have been part and parcel in tandem with the Dairy Industry all the way through.

In a few years time, the crap and pee from dairying will filter down into the deep wells of the Canterbury Plains, then all hell will break out.

David Stone said...

Some people seem to own quite a bit of it. Theres a lot in the Wanganui River.

Slugger said...

I remember about a year ago speaking to a relative about the dairy sector.

He boasted that he was a millionaire many times over as a result of his involvement in the dairy sector.

To him, dairying is just another business model - a business model in dry areas that relies alot on cheap or free water.

It's as simple as that.

Len said...

Everyone instead of no-one: a simple transposition of concepts contains a whole world. A whole new world and a whole old world. Humans have always been part of the world, and as such recognised nature, water, air as the commons; property of all (if we must use the word property). The alienation of the whole into the ownership of the few, the rulers, has always been resisted. Resist now brothers and sisters, with all your collective might, or the water, along with the air, our food, our means of life, will be polluted and commodified to the point where human life itself will be threatened with extinction.

Brendon Harre said...

Cowtopia: A utopian society (for some) where the commercial gains from dairy farming are privatised to the few while the environment costs are socialised to the many.

jh said...

It isn't just water, if you read academic papers on immigration (Bedford, Spoonley etc) it is assumed that non citizens have a right to migrate and yet they have never made that case.

Kat said...

The deep wells of the Canterbury Plains are in Nationals view a God given natural resource to be exploited. Support is unwavering from the particular landlubbers that inhabit said territory.

All hell has already broken out.

God defend NZ.

God...hello hello there anybody out there.

Nick J said...

The ECAN scandal (it is nothing short of that) demonstrated the power of the farming lobby when National is in power. I have long regarded the NZ attitude towards resource utilization as a hang over from the mining era. A Canterbury dairy farmer said this on TV the other night when he described dairying on the plains as a "gold rush". We are the proverbial rip shit and bust country, rape the natural resource for the private good, damn the consequences. Think Orange Roughy, Chathams crayfish, the list goes on. In farmers case it is "grass mining".

Water is the big issue currently. One argument we constantly hear from the farmers is that "they are the backbone of the economy", "that we are an export economy" etc etc ad nauseum. I checked the numbers as a matter of consequence with Dept Stats. Just roughly we in 2015 had a GDP of $240 billion, we exported and imported about the same, $65 balance. Of that quarter of our total GDP (exports) a quarter was dairy. So one sixteenth of our wealth is down to dairy farming. Less in total than tourism that relies upon the clean green image dairying is stuffing up. Yet this sixteenth of our economy has the enormous power to despoil without paying the cost, and to destroy democratic institutions (ECAN).

Gerrit said...

To claim that no one and everyone owns the water is false. There are claims of ownership by Maori.


".... there remains the possibility of litigation in the courts that may involve an examination of Māori rights to water within the wider context of the common law doctrine of native title."

peteswriteplace said...

Yes, water she said, He said. We all said! Bottling water for sale overseas, or domestically, for sale is illegal. Why does the National govt continue to allow it??

Victor said...


Quick change of subject.....

You were excellent (verging on superb) today on Live.

What a load of rot Mitch and Rodney were talking over Brexit!

Apologies for the off-subject intrusion.

Anonymous said...

No one will win if there is any attempt at changing the status quo...

Way too messy. You would have the indebted farmers cutting employment in the regions as their farms shrink, Chinese would buy them up as they go bust. Iwi would claim ownership of the water and it would end up like the foreshore and seabed thing but with many times the scale financially. Greens would be against using water at all (despite irrigation and our abundant water being the obvious answer to climate change adaptation).

Farmers vs Iwi vs Greens war.

Whoever is in Government (probably Labour) when the final decision is made will not fare well whatever the final decision and much more will have been spent sorting it out than we will gain from taxing the water.

Bushbaptist said...

@ Peter Petterson;

Technically the water is free but the companies are charging for the process and the bottle, transport etc. Like the Councils do with reticulation.

Anonymous said...

I'd be inclined to leave the status quo. It's a necessity for life and the commercial users are using it for human nourishment so people don't have to milk their own cows or collect their own water from the river. That they profit from that (some years) shouldn't be relevant. It just seems like opportunism - using a current issue to introduce more taxes.

Charles E said...

Yes it's too complex to say simply we all own it, and so farmers should pay for it. Why just farmers? What about you when you wash your car or eat cheese? What about lettuce eaters? 99% our water.
What about farmers who just use the rain that falls. I'm a forest grower. Should I have to cut down my forests to let the rain water run off the bare earth to the river so Sam Mahon can use it to make shit sculptures?
And the fish. Yes they belong to us all so those damn Maori corps etc should pay us all for their unjust And so on. What about the air people use...
And We. Who? All of humanity owns this water here or just NZers? Do those desert people across the ditch have a claim on Canterbury water? After all it mostly comes off the Tasman.
No I think your hatred of some farmers would more honestly be expressed by advocating an environment tax, as the Greens will no doubt try to push Labour into. I should support it since forestry should be where some of it is spent, as we provide net gains for our environment but get nothing for that service. No, forget it.
It will just create more envy & spite.
And btw folks above, we do get some payment for the water used by irrigators. It's called gst & income tax. Loads and loads of it. It pays for your health, education & welfare, even as you sit there moaning about the success of others. Be honest. Just say you want more of what they have. Or to put it another way: Instead of wishing you had a cow, you wish your neighbour didn't have a cow.

Bushbaptist said...

I have no problem with keeping it free to Kiwis but when a huge multinational like Nestles comes in and sucks mega squillions of litres out of the ground, then shipping it offshore for a huge profit, then it's time to charge them. Set a royalty on all water that is exported. Problem solved.

Charles me old china, we pay GST, Income Tax too. It pays for your health, education and yes, even your welfare. Don't forget that my friend.

greywarbler said...

Charles E
I saw the word hate in your comment before your name. But I wasn't surprised to see who penned it. The trouble seems to be that you get all emotional when it comes to how laws or the lack of them affect you, and all objective about all the other silly duffers who haven't a clue and complain about any and everything.

The trouble with us oldies, and you sound right up there with your thinking, there is little reflection to be seen when looking into the matter of water. And the old superstition about not reflecting connects it to vampires. The saying goes:
'To see your reflection in a mirror is to see your own soul, which is why vampires, who are without a soul, have no reflection.'

So Charles E and other wealth-accumulators, watch that while attempting to gain the world you don't lose your own soul because many, possibly not you Charles E, are already behaving like blood-sucking vampires, and now including water as a favourite quaff.