Waikato researcher says rethink needed on water allocation in New Zealand

7 February 2012

A Waikato University academic warns that New Zealand needs to rethink its water allocation system, or risk stifling economic and cultural development.

Change Approach

University of Waikato researcher and assistant lecturer Jagdeep Singh-Ladhar says the country’s “first in, first served” approach to water allocation and the way local government deals with water allocation issues needs to change. 

Singh-Ladhar is currently undertaking a comparative study for the Centre for Environmental, Resources and Energy Law (CEREL), examining the law and policy around water allocation in New Zealand and Australia.

“Australia has had to deal with its water problems a lot sooner than we have because they have a dry climate, whereas we have a lot more water to go around so we’ve managed to get along with the old system to date,” says Singh-Ladhar.

“When we adopted all the laws of Britain we also took on ideas about the environment that seem to prevail in law and policy today.”


Under the Resource Management Act, requests for water are considered in order of application, regardless of other applications or their potential value, says Singh-Ladhar.

As development needs increase the “first in, first served” approach will limit development in areas where water shortages are common or a catchment is fully allocated.

While more research needs to be done, Singh-Ladhar says any alternative to the current system is a step in the right direction.

Local and Global Issues

“We made a start in 2009 with the Land and Water Forum which brought together stakeholders including environmental, industry and community groups to focus on the issues affecting water.

“And now the law must develop in a way that is responsive to local and global issues affecting the economy and people’s wellbeing.

“Australia’s path to solving water allocation included the development of markets and other initiatives such as the Murray Darling Basin Plan released in 2011. Options for New Zealand will have to suit our climate, culture and economic development," says Singh-Ladhar.

CEREL was launched late last year, and brings together expertise in energy, natural resources and environmental law.

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