Coping with Hamilton's mighty thirst

DANIEL ADAMS
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2013
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Do you agree with water restrictions in Hamilton when the weather is very dry?

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It might fall from the sky but water is far from free.

Ten per cent of Hamiltonians' rates bills goes towards their water supply, and there are some very large numbers on a list of city council spending on the network over the next decade.

Almost $46 million just keeping the network in good order; $14.2m on a reservoir in Rototuna to begin correcting the massive lack of storage on the eastern side of the river, and most controversially, nearly $40m on either making more water or installing universal meters to squeeze residents into using less.

Already, 28 per cent of the city's water is metered and charged to commercial and industrial ratepayers.

Another 17 per cent is sold to users outside the city. Last year the council upped its rates for those users to try to rake in another $900,000.

It also considered a report which outlined ways to reduce the city's reliance on the Waikato River for its drinking water, with a new treatment plant pencilled in for 2040, potentially from the Waipa.

A golden run of hot summer days and the surge in water use that followed, took the city to the brink of unprecedented restrictions, and put the spotlight on the city's water supply.

Grumpy residents who objected to being told off for water use have vented their frustration online, accusing the council of using the restrictions to stampede the public towards water meters.

City infrastructure general manager Chris Allen says the intention of water meters, one of two "interventions" the council has made provision for midway through its 10-year budgets, is simple.

"There's so much misinformation that flies round about water meters.

"At a simple level, water meters are just another way of managing demand. Some of the commentary you see is, ‘council is going to charge twice for water'. That's just not the case. We can't profiteer from water, it's cost recovery. People who are watering their lawns are going to pay more than people who are not."

He shares the frustration shown by dozens of residents who have dobbed in neighbours for breaching the restrictions, and admits potting "one person on my way to work that annoyed me".

"They're pretty easy to spot because they're the ones with the green lawns," says Mr Allen.

Mayor Julie Hardaker says the city's water infrastructure matches its needs and believes water conservation should be enough to cope when occasional demand spikes stretch the supply.

"It's perfectly adequate for this city but at times we have enormous pull on the water. Good management is that we plan for the general use of the city, but we have spikes. They happen every so often for a very short period. If everyone works together across the city, these are non-issues. The council is very good at managing water," she said.

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Daily limits to the city's water take are governed by its hard-won consents, and Mr Allen says the city at all times needs to demonstrate its responsible use of water. It does not have unfettered access to the river and the city may soon have to justify a stepped consent increase needed because of growth.

He says there is a limit to what the council can spend to increase treatment capacity, along with consent restraints on the amount it can take.

"There are legal obligations on us to make sure our ratepayers use water responsibly. If they're not going to do it voluntarily, I guess it would give more weight to meters as a way of getting compliance. If people value something, then they're more responsible with it," he says.

- Waikato Times

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