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molonglo-river-2The recent report from the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) on a new structure for water charges would have a significant negative impact on the ACT if it was implemented.

The current structure has a low basic supply charge, and then two levels of quantity charge. The lower charges apply to the basic quantity of water an average household consumes, then additional water above this volume costs a higher rate. This structure was proposed by ACTCOSS and the Conservation Council to the ICRC at the earlier revision, and was adopted.

The benefits of the current structure are that less well-off families pay less for their water, while large users, whether gardeners or commercial users pay proportionally more. The ICRC’s proposed charge structure progressively increases the fixed charge by 4 to 6 times, irrespective of the volume of water used, maintains the low volume use charge and progressively reduces the cost per volume to large users. This transfers the main costs of the utility to domestic occupiers of units and householders on a fixed basis, and saves substantial costs for big consumers, encouraging high volume drinking water use for non-drinking purposes.

For the last 15 years Canberra has successfully economised in its use of drinking water by dual-flush toilets, low flow taps and showers and installation of rainwater tanks. To now encourage greater use by large users through reducing the price of bulk water is entirely counter-productive. Canberra has a fixed allocation of drinking water through the Basin Plan, which does not increase with rising population. The longer we avoid this problem, the better and cheaper for Canberra, as we will have to buy the extra water.

The current water charges work well and assist the less well-off, while making the cost of large volumes of water a brake on use, and they should be retained.

Ian Falconer, on behalf of the Conservation Council ACT and Region