Paying for water may protect it
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.