Paying for water may pro­tect it

Central Otago Mirror - - FRONT PAGE - Mal­colm Macpher­son

It may just be an ur­ban myth, but I was once told that in some water-short parts of Aus­tralia it’s a crime to wash your car. In dry Cen­tral Otago, some ci­ti­zens are elect­ing not to water their verges – some say as a protest against new water me­ter­ing. Mean­while, Maori in­ter­ests chal­lenge the Crown’s right to sell state-owned hy­dro­elec­tric as­sets, in part on the ba­sis that water is a pub­lic good, not to be ‘‘pri­va­tised’’. We know that when water is ‘‘free’’ peo­ple waste it. But we also know that it’s es­sen­tial for life, as nec­es­sary as the air we breathe. Treat­ing it as just an­other con­sump­tion item – like petrol or elec­tric­ity – just seems wrong to many peo­ple. But it’s also a scarce re­source. Quite soon it’s go­ing to cost a lot of money to im­prove the stan­dard of water in many Cen­tral Otago towns, and the less we use, the less it will cost to build the treat­ment plants. And with rights come re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Throw­ing water around as though there were an end­less sup­ply is ir­re­spon­si­ble. So is pour­ing thou­sands of litres of treated water onto your garden, if you’re not paying the real cost. Are we go­ing to have to get used to browner towns? It doesn’t seem to bother the Aussies.

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