In last week’s Tuesday Club newsletter I read “Many houses aren’t being sent water charges because they have no water meters. This is just poor public policy and unfair.”
I swiftly protested what I thought to be an incorrect statement and found myself invited by Garry to write further on the topic.
It was my understanding that the water supply to all Christchurch households was metered – either individually or via a shared meter in the case of some multi-unit developments – but thanks to a tip-off from an alert commenter on the Tuesday Club Facebook page, and following inquiries with the Council’s helpful media team, it turns out the situation is more complicated than that.
It is working as intended
Firstly, regardless of your view on either the equity or the principle of the current excess water charge, it appears to be working as intended. In the Council’s long-term plan consultation in 2021 the proposed charge was explained as a way to address health & safety issues associated with peak summer usage, to reduce pumping costs, to reduce future spending on the water supply network, and to conserve our water supply. “The new charge would initially affect between 20,000 and 30,000 properties”, the consultation document claimed.
In mid March 2023 I read in The Press that city water use has decreased by more than 10% since charges were introduced, and that close to 10,000 households have received a bill, with more to follow – although it is unclear how many households in total might be billed. Where I have heard concerns voiced about inequity is in relation to households not being billed due to being supplied via a shared water meter.
The Council has clearly communicated that in the initial billing period, there are only 194 properties out of the total of 22,781 with shared water meters that would be eligible to receive an invoice for high water use. That’s less than one property in every 100 shared meters, and with something in excess of 150,000 households in the city, only one property in a thousand overall. Furthermore, these 194 properties will be contacted to advise of the high use and to request a check for leaks, and over time shared meters will be replaced by individual meters, with the priority being set by water use. Bottom line: there are few high users on shared meters, and there is follow-up happening with them all.
The twist: back to the Tuesday Club’s supposed houses with no water meters – this is something I’ve not heard about in any of the Council’s communications, but on digging I’ve elicited the following information from Acting Head of Three Waters Brent Smith: “8,905 (5.7%) properties don’t have a water meter.
Reasons for unmetered properties including empty sections, multiple titles, new developments where they haven’t yet been installed, and areas in Banks Peninsula on restricted supplies.” I was surprised by this number, but if it’s all empty sections and incomplete developments, no big deal, I guess. I asked for clarity as to how many active/occupied households were unmetered, but drew a blank – the Council response is: “We don’t hold data on unmetered properties, only on land. Because of this we can’t provide a breakdown of how many of the properties without meters have dwellings on them, and are inhabited and using water.”
So in conclusion, back to the provocative words in last week’s newsletter. Is it really the case that ‘Many houses aren’t being sent water charges because they have no water meters’?
It depends on what the meaning of ‘many’ is, I guess, but the short answer is that while we know how many unmetered connections there are, we don’t know how many of those are in active use by a household, and of those how many are using in excess of the current billing threshold of 700 litres per day.
On the other hand, if you have equity concerns about the more common situation of shared water meters, I suggest you rest easy as we know that only a tiny fraction are using high amounts of water and that there is follow-up on this.
Simon Britten 027-787-5241 email@example.com www.simonbritten.com