Council boss says meters should be built into Queenstown’s new homes

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Council boss Adam Feeley is gunning for water meters in all Queenstown homes – starting with new builds. 

“It’s a question of time,” he tells Mountain Scene

“The logical starting place is, I think, draw a line in the sand and every bit of new development has water meters installed.” 

Gun-shy Queenstown Lakes councillors might be worried about a public backlash, as some groups fear meters are a step closer to privatisation. 

But the language of the chief executive – who this week was swept up in Justice Minister Judith Collins’ resignation, after an email revealed she was “gunning for Feeley” while he headed the Serious Fraud Office – is hardening, as the council grapples with high water demand fuelled by leaky pipes, a swollen population in peak seasons and summer irrigation. 

A frenzy of house-building at Shotover Country and Jack’s Point – and, across the hill in Wanaka, potentially 1600 sections in the Northlake subdivision – has Feeley worried about the cost of retrofitting meters to houses. 

He says of a rule to force developers to install meters in new houses: “[It’s] not a council policy yet but I think it’s a logical thing to do.” 

He’d like to put a proposal before councillors before the end of the financial year. 

The question is: will they support it? 

Councillor and lawyer Simon Stamers-Smith, who expressed opposition to water metering at March’s full council meeting, points out Lake Wakatipu is 77km-long and about 380 metres deep. 

He says: “To suggest that there’s a shortage of water in this town, frankly I find somewhat absurd. 

“Obviously our present infrastructure for the provision of water is very dated and that’s where we should be spending money.” 

Meanwhile, a water metering trial isn’t far away. 

Feeley says in the coming months bureaucrats are likely to suggest councillors sign off on putting 50 meters in every scheme – Queenstown, Arrowtown, Glenorchy, Lake Hayes, Arthurs Point, Wanaka and Lake Hawea (Luggate, some of Lake Hayes and some commercial properties already have them). 

Developer Wayne Foley, of Trinity Development Alliance, says no one should be surprised by such a move. 

“You’ve got to start somewhere and it has been flagged for a long time that water metering was coming – it’s almost a non-issue.” 

Flint’s Plumbing and Drainage manager Andy Langford says provisions for water meters have been made in most new developments his company has been involved in for the last five to 10 year, adding: “It’d be a five minute job to put a meter in.” 

Right now Queenstown Lakes District Council charges for water through the general rates. 

In the 2011/12 financial year, it collected almost $7 million for water supply on total consumption of 9.3 million cubic metres.
Based on average day population, the district uses 416 litres per person per day, compared to the national average of about 200 litres. 

Over the next 10 years, the council reckons it’ll chew through $72 million on water supply infrastructure work – but $10 million could be saved over 15 years with a demand reduction of 20%. 

Tauranga City Council’s demand dropped 25% after it introduced meters. 

The council declares meters aren’t a money spinner. The estimated cost to install meters in all the district’s homes is $9 million (before monitoring and management costs). 

Feeley says it’s also not a plan to secretly boost council coffers – simply, if you charge people they change their behaviour. 

“Water metering has got nothing to do with charging for water – it’s about reducing demand,” he says. 

“If you reduce demand you prolong capacity. It’s just like broadband – if you all start downloading gigabite files the network’s going to slow down. The trouble with water is it doesn’t actually slow down; it stops.”