The Chief Executive of the Kapiti Coast District Council, Pat Dougherty, is now able to answer claims made by anti-water meter campaigners.
Mr Dougherty, who has been overseas for several weeks, has given the following exclusive release to the Kapiti Independent. We are happy to print this — and indeed any other relevant Council material.
Letter to the Editor from the the KCDCFrom Pat Dougherty, KCDC Chief Executive
“You ran a statement (early in October) from anti-meter campaigner Jackie Elliott on the water meter situation in Nelson .
Unfortunately, her statement contained a number of errors. Subsequent Letters to Kapiti newspapers have picked up on the points by Ms Elliott, and repeated the errors.
In the interests of an informed debate, your readers might find the following useful.
Water meters were installed in Nelson under the instigation and leadership of the Mayor of Nelson Phillip Woollaston, an ex Minister of Conservation and one of the architects of the Resource Management Act.
Water Billing and Free Daily Allowance
The formula for setting the price of water was established by an Advisory Group that included Councillors and representatives from major water users, Chamber of Commerce, Nelson Residents Association and Greypower. Initially there was provision for a free volume of Entitlement Water to each property that was financed by the line charge.
After five years the Group considered that water metering was better understood and that the Entitlement Water was creating more problems than benefits. On the Group’s recommendation, Entitlement Water was done away with and the line charge reduced accordingly.
The price of water has increased in Nelson since water metering was introduced because of the considerable costs of constructing and operating a new water treatment plant, constructing additional reservoirs and upgrading trunk mains. These costs would have been considerably higher if not for the presence of water meters and the associated reduction in peak demand.
The “average cost” to each household figure of $700 a year (plus GST) referred to by Ms Elliott is wrong. The advice I have received from the Executive Manager Network Services of the Nelson City Council is that 18,136 residential customers paid an average of $216 (plus GST) for the six month period Dec 2010 to May 2011.
Given that this billing period included the summer peak usage period, the average annual cost for residential water users in Nelson last financial year was more in the order of $400 (plus GST).
The figures quoted for the price of water in Nelson are also wrong. The Nelson City Council Annual Plan 2011/12 (on their website) confirms that the current volume charge for residential water in Nelson is $1.62/m3 plus GST (not $1.81/m3 or $1.91/m3 plus GST as claimed) and the line charge is 44.6 cents/day plus GST (not $1.69/day plus GST as claimed).
Effect on Businesses
All the major commercial operations in Nelson had been on water meters for many years before residential water meters were introduced. The introduction of residential water meters had virtually no impact on the cost of water to Sealord. Other factors such as rising energy costs, the rising NZ dollar and falling fish quotas are far more likely to have influenced decisions around the scale of Sealord’s operations in Nelson.
Talley’s production factory has always been based in Motueka and I am not aware that they have ever considered moving into Nelson City. Land availability around the Port would certainly have been a constraint.\
As a matter of clarification, all the major commercial water users in Kapiti (including Kapiti Cheese) are already on water by meter.
The construction of the water treatment plant in Nelson had nothing to do with the installation of water meters. Nelson’s water supply grading was D and E. On several occasions boil water notices had been issued for the entire City because the water quality was so bad. The tender price accepted by Council for the new treatment plant was $26 million but again this cost would have been even higher if not for the presence of water meters and the associated reduction in peak demand.
The introduction of water meters has been so successful in reducing peak water consumption in Nelson there has been little need to continue to spend extra money specifically promoting water conservation throughout the year.
However, water conservation information is included on the Nelson City Council website and during the summer months, tips on how to save water are occasionally included within the fortnightly Council newsletters. The drier the summer, the more the water conservation message is more actively promoted.
The City Council Management Accountant is not aware of any mounting debt burden associated with unpaid water meter accounts.
No one I spoke to in the Nelson City Council was aware of any plans to sell out to Watercare, Auckland. I would be very interested to receive any specific information that supported this serious allegation.”
As meters readings in Nelson are processed, they are automatically checked for unusually low readings. This can be an indication that a meter has failed or been tampered with. A site visit is then carried out to establish if there is a problem. If the meter is found to be faulty then it is replaced, the customer is advised, the water usage for the period is assessed based on previous readings and a corrected invoice issued. Relevant Nelson City Council staff are not aware of any instance where someone has been fined for under-usage. Again, I would be very interested to receive information on any specific examples of this happening.
The right of way serving a house is private property. The water pipe in that right of way is therefore private property and the landowner is responsible for ensuring any leaks are promptly repaired. This is the current situation in Kapiti and is unlikely to change with the proposed introduction of water meters. The same policy applies in Nelson. The costs of operating the water supply system would increase dramatically if Council was to accept responsibility for maintaining private pipes in private right of ways.
The Nelson City Council has a policy in place that covers the remission of charges for excess water usage arising from leaks. The policy is appended to the Nelson City Water Supply Bylaw which is available on their website.
Water meters in Nelson have been in operation for nearly 13 years. While some meters have to be replaced each year, I am advised by their infrastructure staff that the Council is still happy with their performance and is only planning to start replacing the meters in the 2012/13 financial year.
I certainly do not accept unsupported allegations that the installation of water meters in Nelson City was hurried or haphazard. Nor am I aware of any short cuts that were taken. From my discussions with a range of Nelson City Council staff the introduction of residential water metering has always been considered a success.
It is extremely disappointing that unqualified comment, rumour and innuendo have been presented as facts on such an important topic and that no research was carried out before rushing to print.