Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Non-compliant water metering debate rages

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Statewide inspection­s into newly legislated, non-urban metering compliance standards revealed just 23 per cent of the state’s largest water works were fully compliant six months after the December 1, 2020 deadline.

Another 32 per cent were partly compliant, having taken steps to update their pumps.

The deadline applied to all pumps 500mm and above, requiring independen­tly certified ‘‘tamper proof, accurate or pattern approved meters’’.

The National Resource Regulator said ‘‘enforcemen­t action’’ would be taken, including fining non-compliant irrigators, but Greens MP for the NSW Legislativ­e Council Cate Faehrmann claimed penalties are ‘‘not tough enough’’.

She has called on Water Minister Melinda Pavey to ‘‘significan­tly’’ increase penalties to hurry up pump-users who still need to upgrade.

‘‘Irrigators have had enough time to install meters on their massive pumps, yet six months after metering became mandatory, compliance is a joke,’’ Ms Faehrmann said.

She said 20,000 pumps were supposed to be metered by March 1 this year, but that the $750 fines for individual­s and $1500 fines for corporatio­ns was not an adequate deterrent.

‘‘Clearly some irrigators would rather wait as long as they can before installing compliant meters and have to account and pay for every drop they’re taking,’’ Ms Faehrmann said.

The NSW Irrigators Council, which represents 12,000 water access licence holders across the state, has refuted Ms Faehrmann’s assertions, saying some who are not compliant have a legitimate reason.

It has called on the state government to ‘‘pay the price’’ for what it is calling a ‘‘botched’’ meter reform.

Under the law, Duly Qualified Persons (DQPs) must install and validate the new devices; a process which should be paid for by the government, NSW Irrigators Council CEO Claire Miller said.

‘‘Government must fund the implementa­tion of its own reform,’’ Ms Miller said.

Ms Miller said not only are DQPs and government department­s ‘‘unresponsi­ve’’ when water users seek advice on the new regulation­s, but until recently the market did not manufactur­e meters capable of meeting the new standard.

She said production has begun on those meters now, but orders often had to be custom made and faced delays of about 10 months, leading to the delays in implementa­tion Ms Faehrmann alluded to.

Ms Miller said there are myriad barriers to implementa­tion of the new ‘‘gold standard’’ meter roll out after the Independen­t Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal proposed irrigators should pay the full amount to buy, install and confirm reliance on meters.

She said for smaller pumps, the starting cost is $3500, while the largest can amount to ‘‘tens of thousands of dollars’’ in replacemen­t costs.

She said all legal pumping operations are already metered — some even with government-owned meters which were introduced just a few years ago under a separate reform — and the only difference in the new meters was a higher accuracy reading.

‘‘At the outset, water users were assured the government would cover its own costs.

‘‘No one saw it coming, that the government would change its mind and ask industry to also pick up the bill for 100 per cent of the behind-the-scenes administra­tion and bureaucrat­ic aspects,’’ Ms Miller said.

The southern inland valley which includes the Southern Riverina, is home to 3500 irrigators which will be subject to the next round of meter compliance on December 1 this year.

Ms Miller urged the NSW Government to commit to paying the costs of DQPs and certificat­ion to help expedite the process.

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