Wellington Scoop

Daran Ponter says water meters are a “must,” but more information needed

Media release from Greater Wellington Regional Council
The Regional Council supports the decision by the Wellington Water Committee to seek further refinement and costs on the case for installing residential water meters to help reduce water consumption throughout the region.

Following consideration of the Economic Case for Providing Residential Water Consumption Information report, the committee agreed that Wellington Water Limited should commission a detailed business case on how residential water metering could be used to monitor regional consumption, which is among the highest in the country.

Council Chair Daran Ponter said the introduction of residential water metering is a must if the region is to avoid a bill for multi-million dollar investment in new water sources.

According to a forecast in the Sustainable Water Supply Target and Policy report, the Wellington region will need to find a new water source before 2040 and by 2026 if demand and projected population growth continue at the current rate.

“Demand management is fundamental to maintaining a sustainable supply, and meters make sense.

“By delivering vital information on personal consumption they will put control in the hands of consumers. They will drive changes to behaviour that will reduce consumption, take pressure of the region’s ageing water infrastructure and avoid the need to invest millions in dams or other water sources.”

Water meters would also play a key role in identifying leaks throughout the pipe distribution system, which accounts for between 6-31 per cent of water consumed, a huge volume of potentially tens of millions of litres per day.

“Data on the location of leaks is essential to cost-effective repair and maintenance within a complex distribution system,” says Cr Ponter. “We don’t have a good picture of where the leaking is occurring.

“Without metering, we’re blind to the scale of the problem, and that can’t continue.”

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  1. bsmith, 27. November 2020, 6:22

    Sounds to me like a tax grab… “Council Chair Daran Ponter said the introduction of residential water metering is a must if the region is to avoid a bill for multi-million dollar investment in new water sources”. Won’t the cost of purchasing and installing them cost far more, or is the Regional Council going to pass this on to ratepayers as well?

    Why are we not building more storage capacity WRC, you already have the land? I stand to be corrected if not the case.

  2. Another Mark, 28. November 2020, 12:02

    Water meters are just another (more expensive) method to apportion water maintenance costs amongst ratepayers. Water is free, so all meters do is apportion council forecasted maintenance costs between ratepayers? This is done already without meters through the general rate. And meters will add extra costs to the apportionment process (ie depreciation and meter maintenance\replacement costs) which the ratepayer will also have to fund. Councils tend to like meters as they can shift water maintenance costs outside the general rate. Effectively (and very subtly) inflating councils overall rate take. History also shows that initially meters do reduce water consumption, but that perversely the reduced water consumption drives water unit prices up, as the same amount of maintenance costs still need to be funded from a diminished pool of consumption. So ratepayers are even worse off. Increasing unit costs also affect those less well off (often the elderly). And once consumers understand the system, water consumption returns to a normal state. But by then ratepayers are paying more for the same level of service. You are better to invest the money in increasing capacity and reducing water losses, than investing in apportioning costs via meters.

  3. aom, 28. November 2020, 17:49

    Another Mark – It is clear that you are either well informed or have an enquiring and deductive mind. Thank you for a clear explanation of the reason that metering should be resisted. However, isn’t an important purpose of metering to ascertain where leakages in the system are occurring so that repairs can be affected immediately to save wastage? Seemingly that deafening sound was a pig powered by a Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engine passing overhead!

  4. Another Mark, 28. November 2020, 19:03

    @aom. Meters are normally located at the point where the council pipe ends and the resident’s pipes (and owner’s responsibility) starts – the property boundary. So not sure how effective meters would be in identifying important leaks. Especially as you’d have to compare annual\quarterly consumption to identify if consumption is higher than normal. I suspect you’d probably see it on your property before you saw it materialise in a significant meter bill. Given councils are getting paid, they’d have no interest in fixing it if you are paying – as it would be leaking from your pipes (not theirs)? Unless it was leaking before it got to your meter (ie the council’s loss), in which case the meter would not know, unless no water got through. Ordinarily councils identify leaks in arterial pipes using professional detection systems (listening for leaks and marking the ground with paint), or leaks seen and reported by the public. I don’t think meters would change that approach.

  5. Cr Daran Ponter, 29. November 2020, 17:27

    @ BS Smith – GWRC has the land to build more storage lakes, but the catchments don’t necessarily have the water to fill them. And each storage lake is circa $250million … and we all know what those costs look like when the job is actually completed.

    GWRC effectively has four meters in the system already, one for each of the Councils we pass bulk water through to. Each city pays volumetrically for the water it uses. The local Councils chose to add this to your rates uniformally rather than bill you for your individual water use.

    GWRC can build more water storage lakes – we would simply pass the cost of doing this on to each territorial authority: Upper Hutt, Lower Hutt, Porirua and Wellington City Councils. They will then increase your rates accordingly. But the Local Government Act requires us to weigh up the costs and benefits for the community of taking this short-term approach VS a longer-term approach of getting people to make rational decisions on their water use.

    This is not an exercise in privatising water, but it will lead to more rational water use, and assist in detecting leaks.

  6. Another Mark, 29. November 2020, 18:04

    @CrPonter. Seems more rational to build more storage, if $90m for meters is only buying time, before the inevitable need for more water from projected population growth. That’s $90m towards storage (in today’s dollars). I would think that its better to identify and build storage now, so any other developments don’t compromise its implementation. Anyone who works with the RMA and thinks long term (and strategically) should be keeping that in mind. I would have also thought that infrastructural construction (and the employment and economic opportunities it would provide) is just what the government is signalling it wants. The LGFA is also offering cheap money, so there’s no better time to think longer term. Either way, the costs get shifted to ratepayers, and kicking the can down the road (by rolling out meters) helps no one.

  7. Cr Daran Ponter, 29. November 2020, 20:23

    @ Another Mark – Can’t see how waters meters = kicking the can down the road. Ultimately we may need water meters + storage, but water meters should be the first step. With communities likely to be facing double digit rates increases in coming years, we need to be ever conscious of our investment decisions.

  8. Another Mark, 29. November 2020, 21:50

    @CrPonter. You are only buying time with meters. Eventually population growth will demand more water. Meters don’t provide more water, and they only “marginally” change who pays. Long term, water consumption doesn’t fall, as people realise that the unit price goes up if they consume less. That’s because you are not charging for water, water is free, you are charging for the annual maintenance costs of delivering water – and that expense is relatively fixed. So if people consume less, you are forced to increase the unit price to cover your expenditure. We already have a reasonable way to attribute water infrastructure costs through the general rate.? Plus, you don’t need meters if you have enough water. Hence better to invest $90m into storage than put it into a measuring system (ie meters). Meters are only a first step if you can’t store\create more water. If you have a choice, you should look to increase capacity. NZ has heaps of water, but lacks storage. I think you need to think a little bit more long term, and a lot more strategically? Good luck with the decision making. Although it sounds like you may have predetermined your position (ie “Ultimately we may need water meters”).

  9. IanS, 30. November 2020, 9:22

    @Another Mark – you have it the wrong way around: Cr Ponter has it right. We need water meters as soon as practicable (it will take many years) and then we may ultimately need more storage. It is good to know we have the land areas for future reservoirs, but we should not build them years before they are proven to be needed. Wastage is not acceptable just because we have the room to build more dams.

  10. michael, 30. November 2020, 10:07

    Thousands of Inner-city residents living in apartment buildings have to pay for their water, so why not everyone else.

  11. Sponge bath, 30. November 2020, 10:12

    The need for more water storage has been known for years. I agree that water meters is kicking the can down the road. How many years will they take to install and at a cost that could go a long way to paying for more storage. We might manage to reduce consumption for a few years, then realise we still need more storage due to population growth. Given how long it takes to build anything here, they need to get on with building it now and it might get done in time – otherwise we end up like Auckland. Then, in the not too distant future, councils would be up to their eyeballs in debt and decide to privatise the water network and water meters would become cash machines for an overseas entity and its shareholders.

  12. Mike Mellor, 30. November 2020, 12:08

    Another Mark, I think you’re labouring under some misconceptions:

    “water is free”. At point of use yes, but only because that’s the way our system is set up – and of course it’s not actually “free”, just that the (substantial) costs of supply are spread in a way that’s not directly related to usage. It doesn’t have to be that way, as Auckland demonstrates with its universal metering (and declining per capita water consumption).

    “you are only buying time with meters”. True, but then so is adding storage (or practically any other public works expenditure, for that matter), only more expensively and not doing a lot about demand or wastage. And every bit of storage added reduces future options, since land that can be flooded in a sustainable way will be more and more difficult to find.

    “a measuring system (ie meters)”. Simplistically, meters are indeed just a measuring system, but that misses the point that demand management is desirable (if not essential) for any limited* resource, and without meters it’s hard to see how that can be achieved.

    *The amount of water that comes out of the sky may not be limited, but the amount that the water system as a whole can handle certainly is.

    A rational approach to resource management should look beyond the way we do things now, learning from the experience of others, including considering both supply and demand. Water is no exception to this.

  13. A J Corlett, 30. November 2020, 15:01

    1. Water meters are the first step to selling our regional water supply into private, corporate hands.
    2. The first step, before considering water metering, is to have our water supply placed into the inalienable public ownership of Wellington regional ratepayers. Like our (stolen) local electric lines network, “our” water supply is not currently owned by us, the regional ratepayers.
    3. Spending an immense amount of capital on water meters is foolish when we lose so much water to leaks. Better to prioritise capital spending where it will produce the best social and water saving results.

  14. Andrew Bartlett, 30. November 2020, 22:57

    AJ, I admire your passion but I must (ref https://xkcd.com/386/) suggest that it isn’t possible to find and fix the public and private leaks without the meters. Public leaks can only be found (city-wide) if there is good water metering so the balance of metered in vs metered out water can be measured. Only then can the scale of the issue be truly known and priorities written. Private leaks will only ever be fixed if they cost the private owner more than the plumber, so while water remains free these won’t be a priority either. Finally, people only value what they pay for, so to ask people to value water but provide it free, unlimited is a difficult challenge.

  15. Guy M, 1. December 2020, 9:24

    Surely putting in water meters, and charging people for its use, is politically untenable in our country. Under Wai 282 we are still debating the question: “who owns the water?” – as we all note, it falls free from the sky, so who are you to say you have right to sell it? We have the ridiculous situations (in Hawkes Bay, Canterbury, and more) that companies can take that water for free, bottle millions of litres of it and sell it off-shore for several dollars a bottle – but to use that same water in our own homes would cost us? No way – we need to fix the political situation first before corporatising any more of the profits. AJ Corlett is right: the debacle of our electricity being owned by Hong Kong residents is ongoing, and we need for the same never to happen to our water.

  16. GK, 1. December 2020, 10:05

    @Guy M. Charging for town supply water is standard throughout the country. If you aren’t paying a volumetric charge, it’s a chunk of your rates (& and if you’re renting, part of your rent).

  17. Mike Mellor, 1. December 2020, 11:09

    Guy M: “Surely putting in water meters, and charging people for its use, is politically untenable in our country” – that’s what happens in Auckland, so why not elsewhere?

  18. Sponge bath, 1. December 2020, 11:24

    Mike – it might happen in Auckland, but did it stop them from nearly running out of water? And by that logic if Auckland jumped off a cliff should Wellington?

  19. John Rankin, 1. December 2020, 11:59

    @GuyM: if you wish to take advantage of the free water falling from the sky, you may of course build your own water capture and storage system. However, if you want somebody else to invest in the infrastructure required to deliver clean water to you and take away and treat the waste water you create, it is inevitable that either you or somebody else has to pay for that service.

    Asking “who owns the water” may not be the right question. We have precedents for selected bodies of water to be designated as legal persons. A legal person cannot be owned, unless that person is a slave. A better question is “who are the legal guardians of the water?” Exercising proper guardianship over the water supply requires metering, to acknowledge the water is a valued resource and to find and eliminate waste. I agree with @AndrewBartlett and @MikeMellor.

  20. greenwelly, 1. December 2020, 15:12

    > A legal person cannot be owned, unless that person is a slave.
    Companies in New Zealand are regarded as a “Legal person” – they all have owners.

  21. John Rankin, 1. December 2020, 17:27

    @greenwelly: I rest my case. Companies are indeed the slaves of their owners. Do we want to treat bodies of water as our slaves or as persons to whom we have a guardianship obligation?