Disappointing response to water meter regulations

Most large water consent holders in Tasman district have missed a government deadline to install a water meter or prove that their existing one is accurate.

Their slack response has disappointed the Tasman District Council, which sent them several reminders of the need to take action by the November 10 deadline, although it says they will get a little more time to comply before facing enforcement action.

The Measurement and Reporting of Water Take Regulations require those with consents to take more than 20 litres of fresh water per second to install a meter capable of storing electronic data, and one that has been verified as accurate within 5 per cent. They are part of a government drive to establish a management system where water is effectively allocated and efficiently used.

The Ministry for the Environment expects the regulations - which are to be extended to smaller water users later - to boost the measurement of consented water from a third to 98 per cent by 2016.

The council sent letters to the 220 consent holders with a take of more than 20 litres per second, and about 50 in the Moutere who now require meters.

Compliance and investigations officer Daryl Page said it had completed the paperwork for just over 20 water takes.

Another 100 consent holders were working with accredited installers and verifiers to meet their obligations, while the rest had yet to respond, he said.

"I'm disappointed because we sent out an information letter in March, we gave them a reminder in July, there was media publicity in August, and now all of a sudden we have this big backlog and our industry people are working really hard because people didn't take action six months ago."

Mr Page said about 60 to 70 per cent of the 220 consent holders had meters that needed checking.

He was not surprised that so many did not have meters, because many were in zones that did not require them until now, although others had their "head in the sand" when it came to complying with the regulations.

While many were technically in breach of the rules, the council would use its discretion, he said.

"Such discretion, however, should not be seen as licence to flout the process, and future enforcement action will be on a case by case basis and will focus on what effort has been made to comply with the water metering and verification requirements."

Consent holders who had done nothing could expect a tougher line, which could include abatement notices and infringement fines of $750, he said. "The time for delay is over."

In the meantime, those unsure about their responsibilities should contact the council.

Tim Robinson of Gill Pumps & Irrigation said some growers had left it late to get their old meters checked because they did not want to pump during wet weather. He was about a third of the way through dealing with 40 clients, two-thirds of whom needed new meters.

It was costing them between $1000 and $5000 to buy one of the permitted models. Others were having to spend between $100 and $2000 fixing their pipework to meet industry guidelines, and there was also a charge to verify the accuracy of a meter.

Irrigation NZ had earlier warned that the industry risked being branded as irresponsible. Chairman John Donkers conceded that the response from consent holders to the new regulations could have been better.

"By not doing things in a timely way . . . that's not a good look."

He said he was still gathering information, but Canterbury was one of the better performers, with just over 20 per cent of users failing to make the deadline, while there had been disappointing efforts in Otago and Hawke's Bay.

A lack of industry resources to install and check meters and the cost involved had been factors in the slow response, he said.

About $100 million would be invested in water metering across the country, which was a lot of money for water users to find, and there had been little acknowledgement of the benefit of providing this information to councils, Mr Donkers said. "However, I don't want to make excuses, as there is real value in having meters."