GUEST BLOG: Bryan Bruce – Thousands protest water bottling in Christchurch


If you rely on mainstream media for your news then you may well have missed the fact that an estimated 5000 Canterbury folk attended a protest march in Christchurch last Saturday against the granting of more water extraction rights to the Chinese owned firm Cloud Ocean Water Ltd

The approval was granted by ECan – the government appointed Environment Canterbury Regional Council -and perhaps the most disturbing aspect about it was that public input into the decision was thwarted by Richard Fowler, the QC they appointed to oversee the approval, because he said such input was “not required ” by law .

I find it interesting that just 3 days before the march ECans put up on their site a PR “news” story to the effect that there is plenty of water under Christchurch – the inference being that there really is no probem here.

Well, if it was oil and not water Christchurch had plenty of then I wonder if ECan would be so keen to give it away at a rock bottom price to foreign companies

No. There are some very serious problems involved in allowing the bottling and exportation of water in our country that our Coalition Government needs to urgently address

TDB Recommends

1. The issue of who owns the water needs to be resolved. If “no one owns the water “ then no one should have the right to sell it.

2. The rights of Maori to water under the Treaty needs to be resolved before any more water extraction permits are allowed

3. The way that water is protected and managed in our country needs a complete review.

4. . The environment impact of mining water and putting into millions of plastic bottles demands that this activity needs to be curtailed

5. The principle of Democracy to which we say we adhere demands that the law be changed so that the public can have their say when decisions about natural resources – in this case water – are to be mined for commercial gain.

So I say good on the organisers of last Saturday’s Christchurch protest and good on all the thousands of Cantabrians who turned out to make their voices heard.

May many more of us to take up this call, throughout the length and breadth of our nation.

Kia kaha

PS My thanks to Marney Brosnan of Mahi Pai Media for today’s photo


Bryan Bruce is one of NZs most respected documentary makers and public intellectuals who has tirelessly exposed NZs neoliberal economic settings as the main cause for social issues.


  1. Good blog. Impressed by all these Cantabrians who want to stop the sale of their lovely water. The government must move, ECan are not their friends or business partners!

  2. well done Christchurch I’m supporting you and so are many other NZers we are literally giving our water away I pay rates for my water and these people are getting it for a song and its not right.

  3. Well written Bryan.
    Your five points that need addressing by the government is right on the mark.
    The issue of who owns the water must be settled and comprehensive legislation enacted to protect it as a resource.
    The issue of maori rights to water will be complicated and may take some time to resolve but the process needs to begin.
    Public input is only required when it suits the agenda of local or central government and it is typical that ECan chose to ignore the concerns of it’s ratepayers and Christchurch citizens.
    New Zealand and it’s resources are still for sale and in this case virtually for free.

  4. I think only RNZ really covered the story. Not surprising. TV “news” is more about cutesy animal stories, cop car-chases, and what ‘celebrities’ are up to.

    What it all boils (excuse the pun) down to is us giving away pure water for a few thousand bucks.

    Foreign owners of our water must think we are chumps. And they’d be right. Many thanks to John “the businessman” Key for telling us ” no one owns the water. For a product that has no owner, some buggers are making millions out of bottling ( IN PLASTIC!!!) and selling it.

    Like I said, chumps.

  5. Agree with everything you say.

    Also apparently NZ has 25% more lawyers per capita than the UK… we are literally swimming with lawyers many of whom make laws here that open to interpretation or designed to be the gift that keeps giving with sloppy laws that are not fit for purpose and very unfair creating more work for lawyers. Makes lots of profits though for lawyers.

    They also seem to have plenty of time to sexually harass and bully people. Nice, moral (sarcasm) bunch some of the people making or being the gate keepers to our laws in NZ.

  6. Number one on my priority list is for the people of the Canterbury region. Water is an absolute right for society, no question. Second must be to Maori; water is fundamental to the indigenous people and has spiritual and physical significance (including protection and guardianship rather than rabid corporate interests). Thirdly must be to the environment, without it we’re all stuffed. Upsetting the natural balance by draining the aquifers is surely a recipe for disaster. Water bottling and sneaky lawyers come in at 665 and 666 respectively.

    • Yes, Jody, it is a recipe for disaster.

      The aquifers under Beijing supply 50% of the city’s water, but their water levels are falling by a meter a year, causing the ground to sink throughout the region as water is extracted.
      (Homer-Dixon, ‘Environment Scarcity and Violence.’ )

      Something similar was reported in a major Indonesian city within the past few months, but from memory, more dramatic.

      Various water issues – scarcity and its economic effects- appear to play a big role in Israeli’s Arab bullying.It’s called resource capture – over-extraction of one resource in a system can produce ramifying effects and scarcities through out the surrounding ecological system.

      The research has been done, and it will still be being done, but even as a lay person who grapples with the science, I am very shocked by what I consider the environmental negligence of Canterbury and other regional authorities cavalierly disposing of our water, and disappointed that the Green Party isn’t being noisy about this.

      It’s not just a question of selling such a precious resource, it’s the wisdom of doing so with likely no consideration for the long-term effects, because of what you rightly call, rabid corporate interests.

      If I were a rich man I would ponder laying criminal negligence charges against Ecan, and as others here say more politely than me – Where the hell are the media on this ?

      • It’s not negligence it’s corrupt. ECAN was stacked with National toadies to allow detrimental over irrigation and pollution by themselves and their farmer mates.
        It turns out National also have ties to Chinese water bottling and now they are gifting NZs natural resources so the Chinese can make Enormous profit polluting the world with plastic bottles.
        No part of this is ok.
        Agree with the criminal charges.

        • Of course it’s corrupt. These villains and ignorami care nothing for the future of this beautiful country,or for us, the people.

          We have two big things which China -and India and Africa and parts of Sth America need – water, and croplands.

          The question may be, do we send the water off to China now in plastic bottles, or do we wait for China to take over here, likely by a process of natural attrition. Likely in my grandchildren’s life time.

          They may in fact make better use of the land which has been savaged by myopic dairy farming, impacting on water and other systems, and making the weasel people very rich.

          If Key said that no-one owns the water then he’s wrong – it’s modern piracy, govt sanctioned.

        • And here we are, a lying lawyer caught trying to sell out cantabrians, father of city councillor, wife of mayor ( labour politician):

          “Documents acquired by Stuff show Davidson Legal initially offered to help broker relationships between the China-owned water bottler and politicians in both local and central government.

          It said it could do so because of the long-standing political connections of staff members.

          Rob Davidson, who runs Davidson Legal and has been married to Dalziel since 2000, initially denied that either he or his firm had ever offered to undertake political lobbying for Cloud Ocean or any other client, when contacted by Stuff. “That is a line we do not cross.””
          “But he later acknowledged it had happened after discovering an email containing exactly such a proposal from his firm – which specialises in property, immigration and employment law – to Cloud Ocean.”

          Dirty self serving pricks.

          • If, as he maintains, Rob Davidson didn’t know that somebody in his firm was pro-actively soliciting work facilitating pouring the water of Christchurch into Cloud Ocean’s coffers, then, at the very least, Rob Davidson may not be the best judge of character when it comes to accepting who should be a member of his band of legal brothers.

            All doing their own thing are they ? Really ?

            Rob discovered an email ? Discovery eh ?

            There are so many dirty people in Christchurch now that they need all their water just to keep themselves clean.


        also agree with KIM DANDY and others that make the point this is not just happening in Chch.

        Also agree with MICHELLE and others who make points that many of us pay high water rates to councils while on the other hand council and government laws give it away to big business. (To resell to us at a profit, or in a more polluting form of a plastic bottle).

  7. ..and it’s not just happening in Christchurch.
    All New Zealand should be protesting!
    Stop the water theivery NOW!
    Hello, coalition Government? Are we there? Hurry up and move on this already!

  8. Ecan and CCC havnt represented the best interests of their citizens since forever….what is so wrong with our system that this should be so?

  9. The Beehive is Chinese owned; the fact that “our” leaders are now beholden to the largest dictatorshit on the planet IS going to be the leading cause of NZ Wars II.

    • Yeah only the 3rd largest city in Nz the population is just 370 000.
      Barely a Chinese immigrant amongst them, they clearly don’t need the water under their city.

  10. Under WTO rules we cannot charge for the water to those those who export water unless we charge for the water used locally as well.

    And NZF is blocking charging (at least for some users) locally.

    And charging for water implies claim of ownership, and if there is ownership then Maori will have a claim to this.

    Your point that if no one own it, then it cannot be sold is demonstrably not accurate. It is being sold now. People pay for its availability, via water pipes provided by rates, or by truck in some areas or to retail in bottles.

    We have options
    1. license the export of water, and issue no further licenses.
    2. buy out the right of existing companies exporting water to expand their current production level to the full level of that authorised.

    If 2 is difficult to negotiate a reasonable price for, our nuclear option is to award Maori compensation for historic water ownership rights that includes a 50% share of the existing authorised extraction level of water for bottling operations (and for “conservation” reasons they require existing companies not to expand their production to full allowed capacity and also a local iwi share of the company).

  11. Who owns the water.

    The catch cry that does not need and answer.

    Water in NZ is a part of our environment. It does not need ownership and should not have ownership. Ownership would allow the neo liberal model to arrange its harvesting for profit.

    That is the last thing that needs to be allowed.

    So the stupid question of about water ownership needs the ridicule it deserves as do the people who ask the question, and their motive examined.

    Management of water to avoid any exploitation that damages the environment must be our drive and concern.

    Next silly question
    “Who owns the rain”

    Stuff for revolution.

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