28 Jan 2021

Water meters recall 1970s' user pays attitude - opponent

10:51 am on 28 January 2021

A new anti-water meters campaign is being launched by a group of Wellington residents with its founder claiming it is diverting the blame for poor pipes onto residents.

detail of water coming out of the shower of a shower with blue mosaic tiles. nobody around. 3d render. view from top.

Wellingtonians have one of the highest rates of water consumption in the country. Photo: 123RF

Officials are currently looking into the viability of installing a metering system across the entire Wellington region.

Wellingtonians have one of the highest rates of water consumption in the country.

Residents use on average nearly 230 litres-a-day - over 70 litres more than the average Aucklander.

Wellington Water - the authority which oversees the entire region's water network - is currently investigating the use of water meters as a way to reduce consumption.

"Metering's already in place in a number of places - Auckland, for example, Tauranga, Christchurch, [and] Kāpiti Coast just recently," said Laurence Edwards, the chief advisor for drinking water.

"Experience in these areas shows anywhere between a 9 and 30 percent reduction in demand can be achieved through metering."

Wellington is currently facing the threat of running out of water.

With an expanding population, and water sources almost at capacity, it's expected supply could exceed demand by as early as 2026.

But it's believed up to 31 percent of overall supply is being lost through leaks every day, both in the public and private network.

"Meters give users the ability to monitor how much they use, and identify leaks within the properties, and they can arrange to have them fixed," Edwards said.

"And it also gives us a better understanding, better information to manage the network generally, to manage leaks on the public side of the network."

In November, the region's councils all gave permission for Wellington Water to push ahead with a business case for a water meter roll-out.

Councils will later this year decide whether to budget for it in their Long Term Plan - although Upper Hutt has jumped the gun already and ruled it out before the business case has even been completed.

Onus being placed on residents - meter opponent

All one group of Wellingtonians want, however, is to have all this talk of meters flushed away.

"I've been anti-metering all the time," said Wellington resident Warwick Taylor. "This is the epitome of the economic reforms which started in the late 70s."

On Sunday, he convened a meeting to launch a new campaign against water meters.

He said the issue is a way of diverting the blame for poor pipes onto residents.

"It seems like everything is being put on the private householder because it's cheaper to give them a responsibility of fixing their leaks, than to fix the leaks in the whole supply."

Data from 2020 showed of all leaks found across the network using leak detection sweeps (which use acoustic equipment), just over 30 percent occurred on private property.

Then there's the issue of cost, with the price for a region-wide installation of universal smart meters estimated at roughly $145 million.

Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons - who attended the meeting alongside a number of other councillors and local MP Paul Eagle - said that's too big a project, when Wellington Water has enough to be getting on with.

"The priority needs to be, fix and upgrade our current pipes, and then we can move onto further discussions," she said.

"That really is urgent, as you've seen what's happening in central Wellington. We simply cannot have central Wellington ground to a halt because of failing pipes."

She's concerned metering could become a smokescreen for the real problems at hand.

Wellington City Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons

Councillor Fleur Fitzsimons: "We simply cannot have central Wellington ground to a halt because of failing pipes." Photo: Supplied

Meanwhile, Taylor said more thought should be going into increasing the region's storage capabilities.

"We have 25 days' storage, whereas Auckland, when the lakes are full, have 10 months storage.

"So that third lake we should get on and build it anyway."

The report from November suggested the cost of building a new storage facility would be $250 million.

It also implied the installation of meters could delay the need to build it by more than 10 years.

Wellington City Council is expected to vote on whether to approve the funding for meters over the coming months.

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