Why Wellington should consider water meters, according to Kāpiti mayor

Story by RNZ

Installing water meters led to a dramatic drop in water consumption and the means to detect hundreds of leaks, Kāpiti Coast District mayor Janet Holborow says.

She was commenting ahead of a pivotal week in the region's water crisis, with Local Government Minister Simeon Brown meeting separately with the mayors of Wellington City and then Upper Hutt to discuss what actions they have been taking to deal with it.

Water meters are likely to be on the agenda when they meet on Monday, with Wellington mayor Tory Whanau and Wellington's Regional Council chair Daran Ponter saying they support their introduction.

Their adoption is opposed by Wellington Residents' Coalition chair Warwick Taylor who says residents are not keen on receiving another bill.

Currently, Wellington has level 2 water restrictions with a move to more severe restrictions being considered, while at the same time, over 40 percent of of the city's drinking water supply is being lost through leaks.

Kāpiti Coast District is one of two councils in Greater Wellington to have brought in water meters - which it did 10 years ago and mayor Janet Holborow said it had been a success.

She said it was a credit to the council in power at the time that they decided to go ahead depite it being a "politically challenging" issue.

The cost was $8 million, with Kāpiti's topography much easier to work in than Wellington's. However, it "paid itself back" when the wider cost of water infrastructure was considered.

The impact was immediate as staff detected 443 leaks and that led to a 90 percent drop in water lost that way.

"We were able to, through the infrastructure that was put in to read the water meters, we were able to find leaks on public and private land and so it was both of those kinds of leaks that were happening - water was just gushing into the land."

At the same time, private use decreased by about 26 percent while the consumption of high water users dropped by 70 percent.

"So huge reductions just across the board. It's undeniable that the water meters have a massive impact on water use."

The deeper problem facing councils around the country was how water infrastructure would be funded in future, she said. All councils were facing higher rates rises to try and cope.

However, it was vital to have methods in place to detect existing leaks.

Wellington's Regional Council chair Daran Ponter said there were three essentials the region needed - fixing leaks, the installation of water meters and preparing for better dam infrastructure to store water.

He said the leaks needed to be the first priority, however, the region's councils needed to stop "dithering" over the water meter decision.

Water meters had already proved their worth for the two councils in the region that had adopted them.

"When they're introduced people's behaviour changes. The amount of water used drops by 20 to 30 percent."

The regional council provides the water to the four councils, he said.

With 44 percent of its water supply not getting to its destination due to leaks and consumption being much higher than comparable cities around the world, water meters were "a practical measure" that would help.

Central government might have to step in and mandate water meters in urban areas that do not already have them, Ponter said.

Residents were already paying for water use, he said. The regional council billed councils around $25 million to $30m for the provision of water use annually.

"That comes onto your rates bill, you just don't see it.

"With the water metering you would have a much clearer indication of what you are getting for your money."

Residents' group favours property tax

Wellington Residents' Coalition chair Warwick Taylor told Morning Report the latest estimate of the cost for installing the meters was $130 million which would be better spent on conservation measures such as helping people to buy front-loading washing machines, water tanks and efficient shower heads.

The immediate issue was the possibility of running out of water this summer and water meters would not solve that - it would be a measure for the long-term.

Lower income residents would also be hardest hit by their adoption because they often had larger households.

"We believe that a property tax is a fairer way of levying people, then the user pays."

He compared it to the difficulty people have paying their electricity bills.

"People do not want another bill."

He was worried that profit would become the driver if the government went ahead with plans for shifting council and regional council owned assets into Wellington Water, a council-owned company.

"Will they merely be charging to encourage people to conserve water, will they be using the money for investment or will they be expecting a profit on top?"