The Ashburton District Council has officially been put on notice that there will be legal action if the sale of water rights to a bottled water company proceeds.
The council is selling Lot 9 in the Ashburton business estate, which comes with a resource consent to extract up to 45 litres of water per second from the town's aquifer.
Yesterday a group of 40 residents opposing the sale crowded into the council chambers to support a submission against the sale.
Jen Branje wiped tears from her eyes as she finished reading her 15-minute submission to the Ashburton District Council, and received cheers and whistles from supporters who had packed into the room.
Miss Branje, leader of the Bung the Bore Action Group, received a standing ovation from supporters after she finished telling the council opponents would seek legal proceedings if the sale was not abandoned by 30 July.
"The time to stop this deal is now, the decision is in your hands. Those same hands that cradle your grandchildren can ensure them a future with clean, potable water.''
Miss Branje said the lack of consultation over the proposal had left residents frustrated and questions remained about who was behind NZ Pure Blue, the company that has applied for the consent.
She told councillors that when the water left the district, it had no intrinsic value to the community.
"Given that our district is currently engaged in a Managed Aquifer Recharge trial to replenish our depleted ground water, we cannot find any cohesive reason to allow 40 billion litres of our pure, potable water, to be extracted to a commercial entity for their long term gain.''
Before the council meeting, a petition with 40,000 signatures against the sale was presented to councillor Ken Cutforth, one of the few councillors to speak out about the sale, outside the chambers.
Mr Cutforth said he was only one vote on the council, but was still committed to stopping the sale going through.
"I just think we should put a value on water, I think it's a crock that John Key and Nick Smith should say that nobody owns the water. The community owns the water, our grandchildren own our water and what we're... saying is come in and help yourselves. It's almost like a dog whistle to overseas interests to come in and help themselves.''
Mr Cutworth said he was concerned that the company would get 30 years of water extraction when there were wells going dry in the district.
The council has a land sale agreement with NZ Pure Blue which expires at the end of September, but Ashburton mayor Angus McKay said he was taking any talk of legal action in his stride.
"I think the problem is that this is a national issue on how water is treated and the council is being very careful to work within the confines of legislation and etiquette.''
He said the consent had been granted by professionals in one of the biggest water consenting regional councils in the country.
Miss Branje said she would be reaching out to the New Zealand public to help crowd source the legal challenge to stop the sale.