Candidates tap into Hamilton's water fears
The prospect of households paying hundreds of dollars more for water has Hamilton voters spooked, and the city's potential leaders are divided on it.
User-pays public water supply - in the name of conservation - has become a major election issue and, along with fluoride, persists as a likely weak point in the otherwise reasonable re-election case represented by Julie Hardaker.
Renters, gardeners and large families have been cited by opponents as likely losers, with proponents maintaining it's the fairest way to cover supply costs.
Dave Macpherson and Ewan Wilson are each targeting Hardaker's position.
Mr Wilson is a more recent convert to the arguments against water metering, but has campaigned hard on the issue since, putting about numbers he's crunched suggesting meters will be nothing but bad news for the wallets of householders.
Currently, he says, water costs comprise 10.5 per cent of the average $1895 Hamilton rates levy, but he's concerned that with metering ratepayers would get that small rates bill reduction replaced by a much bigger water bill.
He fears that large families and gardeners would feel the harshest impacts, and argues there are better, and cheaper ways to achieve the same ends.
He acknowledges there'd be a large drop in consumption under water meters, but says there are other ways - such as plugging 8 million litres a day in network leaks.
Tauranga City - Hamilton's nearest large urban neighbour both geographically and in terms of population - has had universal meters and volumetric charging for water in place for around a decade, and can claim some compelling results.
Peak demand has fallen 30 per cent, allowing a $75m capital spend on water infrastructure to be delayed by 10 years. Residents there pay $27 per year for a standard domestic connection and $1.73 for each 1000 litres of water.
Prior to metering, in 2003 terms annual uniform charges levied ratepayers $230 per year for water; on the raw numbers an average household using about 180,000 litres per year now pays around $330 for their water.
Since metering in 2002 no summer water restrictions have been needed.
Mr Macpherson concedes that there would also be some winners among the losers under water metering, but said that argument ignored the wider costs, such as the bureaucracy required to support meters, and the huge capital cost.
A decade ago 39,000 meters in Tauranga cost $10 million: Hamilton would need 50,000 and the estimated cost has ranged as high as $20 million.
Tauranga's meters are now also approaching the end of their 15-year life.
Mr Macpherson is convinced that Hamilton's lower-income residents would bear the brunt, and like Mr Wilson believes conservation through education and incentives can achieve similar gains.
He points to the tens of millions of litres carved from the city's daily water use under the water restrictions imposed at the height of last summer's drought.
Hamilton is a growing city, placing increasing demands on its infrastructure.
The situation is not governed by how much water the city can take from the Waikato River but how much it is allowed to by its water consents.
But these will generally accommodate city growth, unlike its supply capacity.
As a result $26.5 million has been allocated in long term-budgets - to either install universal water meters, or build a new plant so more water is produced.
It's a simple argument on that level: build up supply or force down consumption.
But the city's pipes are also a problem, the most recent estimate that 16 per cent of its treated water never reaches the city's taps because of leakage.
That is being slowly addressed: $2.3m over six years is being spent, the first stage installing 34 bulk meters across the city to narrow searches for leaks.
Most enamoured by water meters has been Ms Hardaker, although she has now refined her stance from earlier statements of personal support for metering.
It was the mayor who in December failed to win a motion for the city council to "support" metering; instead it resolved only to consider the idea.
At a Waikato Times' debate last week she "personally supported" meters.
However, after coming under attack from her rivals on the issue, this week she said her position had been misrepresented as no specific proposal to introduce universal meters was being considered, only broader "water management".
She has told public meetings that council is still only at the "discussion" stage - but has also said conservation efforts and leaks are not long-term solutions.
On December 6 last year the council voted to "consider" universal water metering as a potential water management tool - this after Hardaker had failed to win support for a stronger resolution stating "support" for meters.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Do you support the introduction of water meters to Hamilton city?Related story: (See story)