I know that water charging has been normalised in Auckland for years, but it is a big shock to us in Christchurch that our Council has now voted to apply a water charge for ‘excess’ use. A province that gives a huge amount of water away to corporates, billions of litres, intends to place an excess charge on any household that uses more than 700 litres per day.
They make a big thing of the daily allowance being much more than the average household use and so on. But there is a significant cost in the policy. Christchurch installed individual water meters around 30 years ago in the first flush of neo-liberal charging for services, and I understand a lot of these will need to be replaced. Then there is the cost of reading the meters and the associated bureaucracy. So they are expecting, presumably, a significant profit to accrue over and above these costs.
The process was a masterclass in a determined bureaucracy getting its own way. The Council voted down the proposal twice before accepting a moderated version. In the original policy, the allowance for wealthy households would be much larger than for poor households, because the amount of rates levied on rich properties was much larger. Infuriating.
This did not find favour and, in retrospect, I wonder whether it was put up as a straw man to then get this slightly less offensive version through.
The argument being used by the Mayor and the more lefty (if one can call them that) councillors who voted for it was the Green view that user pays decreases consumption and is therefore better for the environment.
But what is lost in this kind of formulation is any real notion of the social good. It is pure economics, with the built in assumption that water is a scarce resource that needs its use curbed. But water is also a human need, and its abundance in areas like ours is surely something to be celebrated, not taxed. The application of that argument in this place is offensive and wrong.
This won’t affect me. I am not a gardener and do not have a large family to care for. But it will fall as an uneven burden on people. One more revenue-gathering scheme that will make our lives worse and impose unnecessary restrictions. And it is a step down the road towards user-pays for all.
I have written twice to the Press about this. I can’t be bothered with another letter, preferring to air my concerns among the DB community. I have been worn down on this, like all of us. We seem constantly to be in a war of attrition, fighting policies that make life worse and seeing little improvement.
Can I dedicate this article to the late Penny Bright, of the Water Pressure Group (such a good name!) fame, who I always admired very much. And her message to those of us not in Auckland was always: this too will come to you. Well, Penny, they have knocked on the door and they are here. It is only a matter of time before full charging for this precious resource is in place down here in the sparkling city on the Canterbury Plains.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.