New warnings of a water crisis in Sydney have drawn a call from consumer advocates for caution about the impact of higher bills. Following today’s report on future water shortages, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) argues that a broader strategy is needed rather than relying simply on increasing water prices.
Sydney Water has proposed a new two-part tariff that will see some households charged a higher rate for water usage over a set limit. Research undertaken by PIAC has revealed that some of the State’s most vulnerable consumers would be hurt by the proposed tariff.
PIAC’s study found that 16.9% of high water users are households earning less than $31,200 per annum. A significant proportion of these households are large households, with five or more members, and limited resources available to reduce their water consumption.
Increased bills will do little to help NSW residents reduce their water usage, said Elissa Freeman, Policy Officer at PIAC. Many households have limited options for reducing their water consumption. For example, tenants rarely have a choice about the water efficiency of major appliances selected by the landlord.
With level three water restrictions being predicted, households will be asked to further restrict their water use. Mandatory water restrictions have been highly effective in other parts of the State facing even more critical water shortages. PIAC contends that because restrictions can target particular types of water usage, they are fairer than pricing policies, which cannot discriminate between efficient and wasteful water-use.
Water is an essential service. The NSW Government needs to act quickly to manage both supply and demand initiatives, urged Ms Freeman. The Metropolitan Water Plan released last year failed to provide any real solutions to assist households manage their water use. The contribution that households make to reducing water usage needs to be acknowledged, rather than penalised with higher prices.
PIAC’s report, Water Pricing and Vulnerable Customers, is available at www.piac.asn.au
MEDIA CONTACT: Dominic O’Grady, Media and Communications Officer,
Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Ph: 02 8898 6532 or 0400 110 169