Upper Hutt breaks ranks over water meters

8:10 pm on 2 December 2020

Upper Hutt City Council has rejected funding the rollout of universal water meters, potentially putting themselves at odds with the rest of the region.

Showerhead with flow of water spilling out on blue background

In Kāpiti Coast, where water meters have been introduced, water consumption has dropped by 26 percent. Photo: 123rf

Wellington Water - the authority which oversees the region's water network - had asked the council to fund water meters in their next Long Term Plan, which will be completed next year.

But at a meeting this afternoon, the Upper Hutt City Council rejected that opportunity, after the project was deemed too controversial.

"The issue is this region has procrastinated for 10-plus years looking at future water storage facilities," Mayor Wayne Guppy said. "We are letting down the future generations by not investing in planning now.

"It gives false hope, the water metering thing. Total false hope if you don't start planning for another 10 years.

"The region has a responsibility to future generations and not hide behind the fact water meters will contribute to delaying it."

But that is not a view shared by other councils who are having the same discussion.

"This is not an either/or question," Porirua Mayor Anita Baker said. "The region has to look at water consumption and supply (that is storage).

"Metering means we can identify leaks on private property and in the public networks - both need to be fixed.

"At some point we need to look at increased storage, but the longer we can put that off, the better it is for ratepayers. Planning for this is being done, but in the short to medium term we need to look at consumption."

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Wayne Guppy and Anita Baker are at odds over water meters. Photo: Supplied / Upper Hutt City Council / Porirua City Council

The point of difference between Upper Hutt and the rest of the region was touched upon during the meeting. Councillors pointed to the fact Upper Hutt residents are the only ones to have year-long water restrictions.

"Mostly it's about understanding that our community don't want this," said Councillor Angela McLeod. "Frankly, who gives a toss if we want to be out of step with the other councils on this?"

Neither Wellington City Council, Hutt City Council, nor Porirua City Council have yet had a similar vote.

What's the importance of water meters?

The Upper Hutt decision comes after the Wellington Water Committee (a group of representatives from the region's councils) discussed water meters last week.

The region is facing an impending crisis, with demand set to exceed supply by 2026. Out of the five largest cities, Wellington's daily water residential consumption is second highest, at 227 litres a day per resident.

The report by Ernst & Young found "residential metering typically results in a sustained 10-16 percent residential consumption reduction".

In Kāpiti Coast, where water meters have been introduced, water consumption has dropped by 26 percent.

Nearly every member of the water committee endorsed the use of meters as the best way to cut consumption in a sustainable way.

A business case into providing universal metering was approved by the committee, but Guppy was the only one to speak out against metering.

Lack of water storage is the "urgent thing, making sure we increase bulk storage in the Wellington region," he said. "Otherwise, in 10 years' time, we'll be sitting round here like they did in Auckland last year, saying we're short of water.

"Don't get distracted by [metering], the priority should be the bulk storage to Wellington."

The report by Ernst Young valued the cost of building a new water source at $250 million.

Conflicting ideas about the cost

At the Upper Hutt City Council meeting today, the installation of universal water meters was estimated at $14m, which the council paper said "would fall upon the targeted water rate as an additional charge".

It said the project was "unlikely to ever be cost neutral".

But the report found the option for smart metering (controlled through a mobile app) would actually provide value for money, would essentially break even on an economic basis, and would be a positive effect when considering non-monetisable benefits, such as environmental benefits.

The decision from Upper Hutt does not mean that they will not approve funding in the future.

The recommendation which came from council officers said it did not align with the Long Term Plan, as "Potential for controversy and its significance suggest that it would be best addressed as a separate item."

The door is still open for funding in the future, but Wellington Water Committee member and Wellington City Councillor Sean Rush said metering had to be the way to go.

"The need for meters is to reduce demand and accord with international asset management standards that allow [Wellington Water] to efficiently deliver water to ratepayers. Without them we will need a new reservoir in the short term.

"New reservoirs are unsustainable, carbon emitting and embed a wasteful culture of water having no value - that's got to change."

He said the advice from Upper Hutt City Council officers to councillors did not consider the full benefits of metering.

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