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Councillors pressure Watercare for connection fee cut

Posted at 4:42pm Tuesday 15 Sep, 2020

Fears of another summer drought have led three north Auckland councillors to push Watercare to reduce connection charges for households that are on tank supply, but could also access town water.

Albany Ward Crs Wayne Walker and John Watson have joined Rodney Cr Greg Sayers in asking for the connection fee to be temporarily reduced, saying it would encourage households to connect to the mains network leaving fewer people solely reliant on tanks – important for drought resilience.

Watercare estimates there are more than 2500 households on the Hibiscus Coast, who are connected to wastewater, but not to the mains supply.

Currently the average cost for connecting to the network in a location like Whangaparaoa is $7382. This is made up of a connection and meter charge of $471 and an Infrastructure Growth Charge of $6911.

The fee is prohibitive for many households and the councillors hope that the growth charge could be reduced, for a limited time, as an incentive.

Last summer the drought, coupled with reduced flow at Watercare's tanker filling stations, led to long waits for tank refills. The councillors warn that with low dam levels and another dry summer predicted, restrictions on local filling stations could be even more dramatically impacted.

“We know what's coming, and relying on commercial water carriers may not work,” Cr Watson says. “Those businesses do a fantastic job and last summer worked long hours to cope with the demand in a crisis. That's ok once in a blue moon but we are now in an even worse position. Towards the end of last summer the tanker operators were swamped and some people waited up to six weeks for water.”

The councillors wrote to Watercare chief executive Raveen Jaduram suggesting the introduction of a limited duration incentive scheme that would significantly reduce the connection charge in light of the water crisis Auckland faces.

Crs Watson and Walker say there is a precedent for this, introduced by the former Rodney District Council, where mains water could be connected to a property boundary for $1000, instead of the standard $4000 fee.

Residents who took up the offer only required a tap at the boundary to connect to the network and could run a hose to their tank to refill when needed, without having to connect the water to the house.

Mr Jaduram told the councillors he will put the idea to the board at its meeting this month. All three Councillors plan to be at that September 29 meeting to support the proposal.

Cr Watson says for the Watercare board to accept the plan would be “a massive mindset change”.

“Until now that fee has been non-negotiable,” he says. “But there is a water crisis and that might make all the difference.”

Cr Walker says a cheaper connection fee would have the effect of both averting the potentially disastrous scenario of people being without access to water, while preserving the in-built water conservation gains of collecting rainwater in a tank.

“People on tanks help to reduce pressure on the network and should be recognised for this,” Cr Walker says. “They are the best water conservationists in Auckland and should be encouraged.”

All three Councillors believe that, with the general public's awareness of the water crisis, there would be widespread support for an incentive scheme.

Mr Jaduram says Watercare is currently considering whether a short-term arrangement is viable this summer, but cannot comment further until options and potential implications have been discussed with the board.

Tank consents on way out

Currently, any rainwater tank over 1m high is defined as “a building” and therefore resource consent rules apply for things such as installation. Right now, Council is working on a change to the Unitary Plan that would reclassify rainwater tanks and mean that, in most cases, resource consent would not be required. In the meantime, resource consent fees have been temporarily waived to encourage people to install a tank before the expected dry summer (HM July 1). The Unitary Plan change is open for submissions until September 23. Info: akhaveyoursay.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz

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