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Warriors challenge Watercare’s wastewater charges

Posted at 2:15pm Monday 03 May, 2021

Hibiscus Coast lobby group Water Warriors plans to take Watercare to the Disputes Tribunal and Commerce Commission over its refusal to lower its fixed annual wastewater charge for households with a rainwater tank.

The group will seek support for its campaign from the Hibiscus and Bays Local Board at a Community Forum this week.

Watercare is refusing to consider lowering its fixed annual wastewater charge despite evidence from metered tanks that the vast majority of households reliant on rainwater use less water, and therefore produce less wastewater, than those on town supply.

The fixed wastewater charge of $708 a year is based on a discharge of 172 cubic metres of wastewater a year, equivalent to an average three-person household's use of 600 litres per day.

However, average consumption is currently 501 litres a year for a three-person household, possibly reflecting Council's water conservation messages. The drop equates to less wastewater discharge, yet a Watercare spokesperson says reducing the fixed charge in response to this change has not been discussed.

The spokesperson acknowledges that small households who are low tankwater users are likely to discharge less than 172 cubic metres, but says anyone in this position should install a meter.

In 2013, residents won the right to install tank meters after Watercare ran a trial because of public opposition to the flat annual charge. Those who install meters on their tanks (at a cost of anything from $450 upwards) pay for wastewater based on 78.5 percent of their actual water use.

Army Bay resident Andrew Gardiner says Watercare should use the figures from metered tanks to come up with a fairer annual wastewater charge for those on tank supply. His four-person household is on tank water and pays the same as his neighbour, who lives on her own. He says this is unfair.

However, Watercare says there is little value in comparing the consumption of its 344 Hibiscus Coast customers with metered tanks (which it says is just 10 percent of Coast wastewater-only customers) with Aucklanders' average consumption.

Although no exact tank water meter figures were released to this newspaper, Watercare estimates that around a quarter of people with metered rain water tanks use their property as a holiday home and, therefore, have periods of very low (or no) usage. Of the remaining customers, usage ranges from 100 litres to more than 900 litres a day.

“However, as expected, the vast majority of these customers use less than 500 litres a day and are benefitting from their choice to pay volumetrically,” the Watercare spokesperson says.

“We think the charging options available to wastewater-only customers are fair. The fixed charge closely reflects what a typical metered household paying the standard wastewater tariff could expect to be charged.”

Increasingly, Auckland Council and Watercare are acknowledging the role that rainwater tanks have in water conservation. Their joint press release last month committed to reducing Aucklanders' use of water by 20 percent over the next 30 years, saying water conservation is critical with population growth and increasing droughts caused by climate change.

Key to the conservation effort was “...utilising new sources of water such as rainwater tanks”.

Water Warriors spokesperson Sheryl Poynter says a fair wastewater charge would make a big difference if Council wants to encourage people to put in a tank.

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