Apparently there is a public meeting on 2pm Sunday at Newtown Hall about Wellington City Council plans to charge for water.

I know this via txt, so have no more information. However, in general, I am incredibly against moves to charge for or privatise water. Water is a public good, the only necessity of human life. It falls from the fucking sky, and the infrastructure is already in place. Rates already cover maintenance etc. There is no justification for charging by use.

Yes, water conservation is a good idea. Yes, we need to adopt sustainable living practices. But using the market to achieve this behaviour change is stupid and will actually lead to results that are inhuman. Worldwide we are heading into a massive water scarcity issue. By 2025, about 3.4 billion people will live in regions that are defined by the UN as water-scarce. Ten or fifteen years down the track, the results of metering will be horrific, as the price will be going up, and the human cost will not matter to the privatisers. (If you want to know what this will look like, google “water riots”, and find out what life in India, Iran, and other water scarce areas is like now.)

We can choose now whether we have a country in which water is a public good available to everyone, or whether we have a country in which access water is put beyond the reach of the poor.

11 Responses to “water”

  1.   Richard
    January 15th, 2009 | 2:50 pm

    I completely agree. However this “initiative” from the council has nothing to do with conservation – it’s merely free market ideology. The council just seems to gather revenue for the sake of it, rather than to benefit the public that it supposedly represents.

  2.   Rich
    January 16th, 2009 | 12:41 pm

    It would be really expensive to install the meters. Especially, if as soon as they were put in, somebody stuffed the meter holes with concrete.

    Really, Wellington City needs its own community council separate from the suburbs, that elect dorks like Prendergast.

  3.   Rich
    January 16th, 2009 | 12:42 pm

    It would be really expensive to install the meters. Especially, if as soon as they were put in, somebody stuffed the meter holes with concrete.

    Really, Wellington City needs its own community council separate from the suburbs that elect dorks like Prendergast.

  4.   Pearce
    January 16th, 2009 | 4:56 pm

    It probably helps at this point to remember that the minister in charge of local government is Rodney Hide.

  5.   Bruce
    January 21st, 2009 | 7:10 pm

    absent monetary cost, what feedback mechanism to water users would you suggest in order to motivate conservation efforts?

    Where i come from they charge for water… not saying that’s better or worse but when someone I know knowingly decided not to fix their perpetually running toilet for two months they were hit with a gigantic water bill. It made a bit of an impression on them. This happens from time to time and they appealed and got the bill cut in half, it was still on the large side though not economically crippling or anything. Thereafter they were more conscientious about keeping their plumbing in good nick.

    Anyway, charging for water does not equate with water riots, it can encourage conservation, but I am certainly happy to hear about better alternatives?

  6.   Administrator
    January 21st, 2009 | 11:04 pm

    Bruce: charging for water if it is run by the government is one thing; there are definitely precedents for water riots when water is privatised and run by companies who do not get the human effect of their policies. Charging for water, under a right wing government, opens the door to privatisation of water.

    My better alternative tends not to be an issue-specific solution – ie I see this as a specific instance of something which can be dealt with as part of an overall realignment of society and behaviour towards dealing with “reality” in a more coherent (in the sense of well-adapted) sustainable etc fashion, which would overwhelming involve the removal of profit as a motive for action and in which monetary motivational strategies have no place.

    Um. I have book length exegeses of what I mean by this sort of shit. ;/

  7.   Bruce
    January 22nd, 2009 | 4:22 pm

    Can’t wait to read the book!

  8.   Jez
    January 26th, 2009 | 2:58 pm

    Yeah, but we already pay for water, it’s part of our rates and it’s a flat fee for most. Why should someone who wastes water pay the same as someone who uses less?

  9.   Administrator
    January 26th, 2009 | 9:57 pm

    Jez: Your question is the wrong question. Water is a public good.

    Some time in the future, if we do not become more sustainable in our use, we will hit the tragedy of the commons in respect of water.

    Thus some form of regulation of water use may become necessary. However, water is too essential a resource to allow that to be a market solution. Frankly, only libertarians or others with excessive blind faith in markets are likely to fail to grasp this.

  10.   Jez
    January 27th, 2009 | 11:15 am

    It’s a question that’s part of many more questions:

    Why is water a public good?
    Depending on your answer to that question, there’s going to be a follow-up question – why isn’t food a public good?
    If water is a public good, then for what uses? Cooking, washing, cleaning, watering the garden, washing the car, filling a swimming pool or a rice paddy?
    Water is a rival good (if you use it, there’s less for me), then why should any household be allowed to use as much as they like?
    People in NZ in regions where there is water metering use 40% less than in un-metered regions*. So if we want to save water, then why not use metering?

    Plenty of forms of regulation of water use are already in place. We already have a quasi-market in agricultural water, with water use consents tied to land ownership and having a massive impact on the value of that land, in ways that are economically inflexible and environmentally damaging. That’s just one example of the current difficulties in managing water here already. I think there’s going to be a massive shitstorm over water in NZ at some point in the life of this government, and I’d like people to be thinking hard about the questions, before the storm kicks off, because just saying “it’s a public good so it should be free” is just as helpful as saying “privatise it, the market will sort it out and we’ll all live happily ever after”.

    * Data from page 40, the IPENZ water report at http://www.ipenz.org.nz/IPENZ/Media_Comm/Additional_publications.cfm

  11.   Administrator
    January 27th, 2009 | 1:12 pm

    Water is an unrivalled good, IMO, on the household scale. If your neighbour has a bath, that doesn’t mean you go without in any sense. Water still comes out of your tap. If you are irrigating 300 acres, that is a different scale, and maybe your neighbour is affected. Hence agricultural level regulation.

    I agree we need some sort of definition of what sort of use is appropriate – and IMO to be enshrined as a fundamental right. And no, I don’t have one off the top of my head, though the phrase “necessities of life” springs to mind as a suggestion of the flavour of my thinking. I would hate to live somewhere where people were denied necessities of life based on money. And, as noted earlier, that has been the case when water has been privatised elsewhere in the world. The taps were turned off when people couldn’t pay.

    My specific objection to metering is the slippery slope to outright privatisation in a world of demented “free trade” agreements with provisions against “protectionism” or “barriers to trade”, which NZ, lacking economic giant status, can’t blithely ignore. If water is regarded as a private good, it is subject to such international agreements. (ie) a future where water from NZ is shipped off to a wealthier market by a multinational company which “owns” the local water rights and is operating in a global free market. All the necessary precursors to such an outcome could easily be passed into law by our current ideology-blinded government.

    (In many ways it is a question of implementation – metering to give people awareness of how much they are actually using, combined with a nationwide campaign/goal of how much water we can sustainably use – a basic feedback system combined with enforcement via social norms and disapproval to manage compliance – would be fascinating to trial. (Er. Spinning shit freely here. The point is there are many ways to achieve any goal. 🙂 ))

    So yeah, I think we are agreeing in that there is an issue brewing here, and we need a smart approach to dealing with it; but the devil is in the details, or the implementation. In particular I am very conscious of the language used to frame such issues, as they lead to different approaches and outcomes. For instance, do we want to “save” water, or do we want to become more conscious of our actions and their effects on our environment? I regard it as a larger issue of coherence between humans and their environment, and more effectively dealt with on that level, rather than on the specific case level. And as with your water rights/land value example, there are ancillary effects to any change, so considering things on a wider level seems relevant, as solutions to narrowly defined “problems” will have effects elsewhere…. Again, book length exegeses…