Supreme Court decision permanently quashes water bottling consents

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Nov 20, 2023 |

The Supreme Court has overturned water bottling consents granted to Cloud Ocean Water Ltd and Southridge Holdings Ltd, marking a significant victory for environmental group Aotearoa Water Action (AWA).

This decision concludes a protracted six-year legal struggle.

The consents in question, initially granted by Environment Canterbury (ECan), permitted Cloud Ocean and Rapaki Natural Resources Ltd to repurpose water allocated for industrial purposes to water bottling.

This repurposing was executed through the amalgamation of new ‘use’ consents with existing ‘take and use’ consents, effectively diverting water without reintroducing it into the communal pool.

The Supreme Court’s ruling aligns with the Court of Appeal’s interpretation of the Canterbury Land and Water Plan.

It ruled the ‘take’ and ‘use’ of groundwater should be considered collectively, rather than as separate entities.

This decision counters ECan’s initial approach.

In response to concerns about the challenges consent holders might face in repurposing water in fully allocated catchments, the Supreme Court suggested the surrender of existing consents and application for new ones as a viable solution.

Peter Richardson, Chair of AWA, expressed full support for the Supreme Court’s decision.

He highlighted its significance in reinforcing the notion that water rights should not be treated as private property.

Instead, these rights are seen as limited privileges, subject to the conditions of the consent.

AWA spokesperson Niki Gladding extended gratitude to their legal team, David Bullock and Steven MaChing of Lee Salmon Long, and previous barristers James Gardner-Hopkins and Prudence Steven.

Gladding credited the victory to the relentless efforts of their small team and the overwhelming support from the community.

Background of the Case:

  • In late 2017, ECan granted consents to Cloud Ocean Water and Rapaki Natural Resources for extracting up to 24 million litres of water per day from shallow aquifers beneath Belfast, without public notification.

  • AWA challenged these consents in December 2017, leading to a ruling in 2018 in their favor.

  • The High Court upheld the process of granting consents in 2019.

  • The Court of Appeal overturned the High Court’s ruling on July 20, 2022, setting the stage for the Supreme Court’s definitive decision.

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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