The weight of water
Two homes, with very different water usage, will pay the same bulk charge.
While most councils with bulk charging promote the voluntary installation of water meters as a means of lowering rates, few have been installed. Given how essential it is to modern living and the fact that cities as a whole benefit from good quality water for the entire population, it is easy to see how such a system has been maintained. But any system which does not place the scarcity of what is arguably New Zealand’s most precious resource at its core, is one that will inevitably waste that resource.
The logic of charging for water by volume appears compelling.
Smart meters for electricity have allowed innovative companies to offer customers constant information on how much is used, and when. Some households have responded by changing their usage, often to lower bills.
According to information put before the Christchurch City Council, its average household uses double the amount of water as in Auckland, where residents pay $1.40 for every thousand litres of water.
The different charging systems may not explain the whole gap, but cost savings are a powerful incentive.
Previous research for the Wellington region has claimed metering for water may cut usage by up to 40 per cent.
Opponents may fret that families should not be worried about the cost when they decide to have a drink of water, flush the toilet or draw a bath. But it would not be difficult to establish a charging model designed to discourage excessive use, rather than simply normal household use.
Opponents may be concerned that volume charges for water will be another example of ‘‘user pays’’ creeping into new areas of essential services. But why should owners of large sections be able to water their gardens at no added cost, effectively subsidised by those with no gardens?
Worse still, what is the incentive for someone with leaking taps or broken pipes to carry out timely repairs?
If the debate became one around how to curb excessive or downright wasteful water use, rather than user-pays, perhaps this time progress can be made.