And interesting explanation in the ODT by Dr Mick Strack, lecturer in land tenure at the School of Surveying, University of Otago, on the water rights wrangling:
There is a widely held belief and expectation that water is an asset that is common to all. It is certainly a free-flowing and largely un-owned component of our natural and physical environment.
However, our English-derived common law generally assumes any property rights in tidal and navigable rivers are held by the Crown, while all other rivers are held within private titles.
In other words, the common law has no problem with, first of all, assigning property rights (such as use of, and access) to water, and also recognising private title to rivers, neither of which have unreasonably restricted publicly asserted rights such as fishing and use of rivers.
The current debate about “ownership” of water and rivers has arisen because the Crown, in proposing to sell state energy companies, is apparently (even if not legally) assigning a set of private property rights to the water and rivers involved, that may impinge on the exercise of Maori customary rights to rivers.
These issues are not new.
One component of a Maori customary right includes Maori role as kaitiaki; their management of the river.
Given the state of many New Zealand rivers and the state of current management, it would be a good thing if specific hapu with mana over their own rivers held and applied their management duties for the greater good of us all and of our natural environment.
Customary rights are normally held communally or collectively, and they are not individual and exclusive.
They are unlikely to deny general public rights to use and enjoy rivers, and Maori have often recognised this fact.
Several Maori have announced the current objection to privatising state assets is not initiated by a desire to limit public rights, but just to ensure those common rights are not sold into private ownership without first recognising the existence of underlying customary rights.
In this respect again, we see history repeating itself.
If the Crown chose to extinguish Maori customary title without also extinguishing private titles to rivers, it would again be legislatively possible but clearly discriminatory.
Corporate ownership is likely to demand a higher level of control over the water asset and that is likely to restrict public rights, as well as Maori rights.
The fact Maori are putting their oar in the water here and saying taihoa is essentially protecting that common interest in the water for us all.
Full article: History repeating itself in water debate