The weight of wa­ter

Nelson Mail - - COMMENT&OPINION -

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.

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