Smart meter move heralds user-pays water
Waikato District Council looks set to be the first in the region to move to user-pays water after councillors decided not to wait for smart meter technology.
While one Waikato district councillor said the move was "jumping from one boat to the other boat in mid-stream" after councillors decided not to wait for smart meter technology, others saw it as the road to better water management.
The council had started residential metering but hit pause on the plan in the middle of last year to wait for smart water metering technology.
The term smart meter can cover a range of devices, from attachments to conventional meters, to complex instruments which can transmit detailed information at regular intervals.
The council's infrastructure committee on Tuesday decided technology had not progressed as fast as they had hoped and chose to press ahead with conventional meters in the areas of Huntly, Ngaruawahia and Raglan.
Conventional meters are powered by the water passing through them and record the volume on a mechanical dial.
A user-pays water system would encourage conservation, councillor Lionel Petersen said.
"People will start using it sensibly, using what they require and not wasting it."
A report prepared by waters asset management team leader Bryan Everitt said regular, consumption-based water bills would make consumers more aware of how they could cut back "rather than an annual targeted rate which has limited personal incentive for individual customers to manage their own consumption patterns".
Typically, the installation of conventional water meters reduced annual peak demand by 15-30 per cent, the report said.
While Petersen said smart metering would be great, he was not satisfied the technology was proven and it would take years to get the meters installed, he said.
"I don't think we can wait years."
The sentiment was echoed by Mayor Allan Sanson, who preferred smart meters but was not prepared to keep the programme on hold until the council was more confident about them.
"If we have to wait seven years, it's just too damn long," Sanson said.
But councillor Graeme Tait said the flip back to conventional meters was "jumping from one boat to the other boat in mid-stream".
He was worried about control of water being taken out of the council's hands completely and expressed concern about the Auckland City Council's Watercare Services, with whom the Waikato council already has an agreement.
Also dissenting was councillor Clint Baddeley, who said the council should
look at options like rainwater and collected water systems for new houses.
"I think we're getting hung up on water meters when there's a hell of a lot more we can do to conserve water," he said.
"We've got to get smarter, and water meters, on its own . . . is not enough."
Other councillors raised concerns about how the change would affect people with a young family or a pool to fill.
But chief executive Gavin Ion said Tuesday's debate was solely about whether to wait for smart meters.
"To me it's not about whether we meter or not, because you've already made that decision and put a programme in place."
The committee approved recommendations to resume installing manifolds in 2014-2015 in preparation for water meters being installed in 2015-2016.
Once all residential users were connected to meters, they would begin being charged according to how much water they used at the beginning of the next financial year, the general manager of service delivery, Tim Harty, said.
Most residential properties in the district already had meters installed - except those in Huntly, Ngaruawahia and Raglan, he said.
Baddeley and Tait voted against the move to use conventional water meters.
In Hamilton, Mayor Julie Hardaker said residential meters were still ruled out.
"There's no change to our discussions. We aren't having any," she said.
"We certainly don't have any plans to relook at that at this stage."
While Hardaker was pegged as a supporter of water meters during the last local election, she said she was waiting for facts and data before forming a view.
The Hamilton City Council's only activity in the water sector was looking into shared infrastructure with Waikato and Waipa, she said.
A report in April to the Waikato Mayoral Forum recommended the councils consider setting up a council-controlled organisation for water and wastewater activities.
All three have agreed to look into the options through a business case.
But water meter opponent and Hamilton councillor Ewan Wilson said he felt the foundations for water meters were being slowly and quietly put into place in Hamilton and it was "incredibly scary".
Wilson was concerned by the recent suggestions of putting a council-controlled organisation in charge of water and suspected privatisation or commercialisation would be the end result.
Hardaker said that "can be emphatically ruled out" as water could not be privatised in New Zealand.
Meanwhile, the Matamata-Piako District Council is seeking public feedback on drinking water issues and options for the future, including the use of water meters.
"One of the options we have put to the community is to manage demand on our water supply through education programmes, encouraging the installation of rooftop rainwater systems or installing water meters on residential properties," spokeswoman Nicole Nooyen said.
The council is asking for feedback from the community on this issue until August 22.
Record amount of water passing through on a mechanical dial
Powered by pressure of water
Life expectancy of 8-15 years
Range from attachments to conventional meters to complex instruments which transmit regular records
Link to communications network is an essential part
Source: Waikato District Council