With water bills set to soar for Hunter and Central Coast households (see this Herald article) the message from Hunter Water is clear. Instead of showing leadership in conservation and recycling measures Hunter Water is:
- punishing existing users with price hikes for an unwanted dam and that are hoped to send a use less message!
- committing only a paltry 2% of new money raised to new water efficiency programs!
Prices will have to go up whatever – to pay for more supply or to pay for supplying the same amount of water to more users (i.e. more service & running costs). It is just not in Hunter Water’s interest to encourage on-site water harvesting (rainwater tanks etc) or more efficient water use. And yet according to a 2006 report prepared for the then Prime Minister, John Howard the number of mains breaks in the Hunter region is significantly higher than the Australian average. And percentage of water recycled (6%) is lower than the Australian average (12%) which is abysmally low compared to the rest of the world (Securing Australia’s Urban Water Supply: Research notes for selected case studies. Research notes prepared for Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet by financial & economic consultants Marsden Jacob Associates 20 Nov 2006).
This report provides interesting reading as yet again it states ‘Unlike other regions, Hunter does not anticipate that water demand will exceed its annual supply capacity. Hunter Water’s IWRP (Integrated Water Resource Plan) does not contemplate augmenting supply to meet potential supply/demand imbalances.’ And ‘The IWRP focuses primarily on demand management efficiency and leakage reduction to redress future imbalances.’ So what has changed? And why aren’t HW doing what they said was their plan? Dancing to the tune of political puppeteers?
What is really alarming is the low rate of cost recovery (well below Australian average!) and spiralling debt – increasing from $60 million (2001/2) to $150 million (2004/5). And yet in the consultants’ view that Hunter Water could afford to borrow up to a debt level of $500 million before reaching a “benchmark” gearing level but would have a net debt position of $418 million by 2008/09 – this is without Tillegra! The numbers just don’t add up. Hunter Water rate payers can expect even further price hikes not taking into account any budget blow-outs in dam construction! Residents are already disproportionately paying for their water – 71% of Hunter Water’s supply revenue comes from 55% of the water supplied to them. Hunter residents are getting ripped off!