Long time readers will know that I have a minor fetish with respect to water, and water pricing, and water policing. For all that it is in short supply, water is ridiculously cheap. I estimate that we will pay about $400 this financial year (ending 30 June 2010) for our household water usage. That’s $400 that we would happily spend on other necessary items if we didn’t have to spend it on water, but it’s hardly a steep charge – less than $10 per week, even on SA Water’s new price schedule, which is much more expensive than the old schedule. Our annual water rates charge is much higher than that, but most of it is taken up by fixed charges which are completely beyond our control.
Because SA Water either can’t, or won’t, charge enough for actual usage, and so won’t send a decent market signal in order to limit water use, they resort to social pressure instead. The pressure is intensely felt by some people; an elderly friend of mine keeps a bowl of water on her bench to soak dirty plates in, rather than running the tap over them, saving maybe 5 litres a day. Even at the highest price that SA Water charges, that will save her about 0.1c per day, or 36.5c per year. So my elderly friend carries a weight of social responsibility, simply because her neighbours, and businesses, use water casually.
SA Water doesn’t just deploy social pressure to get us to minimise water use. They’re into propaganda as well.
We got our quarterly water bill a week or two ago. On the back of the bill was a chart showing us how our household water usage compares. We are invited to compare our water usage with other SA Water customers. We have a household of 5 people, and a large allotment. The “range of litres used per day” for a household like ours goes from 740 to 915. So given our actual usage, 621 litres, we’re looking pretty good.
Not so fast. When SA Water ask, “How does your household water use compare?” they don’t say what the comparison is too. My assumption was that our usage would be compared to average usage. I think that’s a reasonable assumption.
But there’s a sneaky asterisk beside the column header, “Range of litres used per day.” It turns out that the range of litres used per day is based on “waterwise to average households…” Instead of giving us a standard comparator (average usage), they’ve given us a low one, and it takes a bit of careful reading to work out exactly how your own household is doing with respect to water usage.
I’m rather tired of the dishonesty around water. As you can see, our water usage isn’t too bad at all – well below average for the size of our household and allotment. Even if we figure that three kids are equivalent to say two adults in terms of water use, and look at the figures for a household with four members, we still do well. So this is not about SA Water trying to browbeat me into “better” behaviour. However, I wish they would trust us with accurate information, and treat us like adults, instead of trying to manipulate us.
What I would like to see is a change to pricing policy. I would like to see a very low charge for basic water use, so that people’s basic needs are met. After that, they should charge like wounded bulls. Any water use above the basic level should be very, very expensive, for households and businesses (including farms) alike. The profits (and I’m betting there would be a lot) should be used for all those fantastic projects that will help us to meet our water needs (damns, stormwater harvesting, rainwater tanks on public buildings, whatever).
And if SA Water really wants to apply some social pressure, then I suggest that they send their water inspectors out at 2am. You would be amazed by the number of watering systems that are in use at that early hour. I should imagine that most clandestine waterers would give up after too many nights broken sleep.