A fairer system means sharing the cost

By Geoff Adams

By Charmaine Quick,
managing director,
Goulburn-Murray Water

I have been disappointed to read letters to the editor of this newspaper and a subsequent article calling on irrigators across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District to withhold payment of water bills.

As a non-profit authority, our number one goal is to deliver water at an affordable price and look after the best interests of all customers.

And it’s a goal we’re making significant progress on.

Our 2020 Pricing Submission (now with the Essential Services Commission for approval) recommends price reductions of about 10 per cent for most customers.

We understand many of our customers are doing it tough.

Consecutive years of low rainfall means allocation has not reached 100 per cent in the Murray, Goulburn, Loddon, Campaspe and Broken systems this year.

Other input costs such as energy have risen sharply in recent years.

Because we understand this, we’re proactively speaking to our customers to offer flexible payment options.

This is working and we’re seeing more customers on payment plans that suit their needs. Since September, customers on payment plans have increased from 185 to 306 in December.

I urge those customers who may be experiencing hardship, to seek more information on payment options by phoning our Customer Contact Centre on 1800 013 357.

Our team is committed to working with customers to resolve these challenges wherever possible.

This is a difficult time but an opportunity for us to work together for the same outcome: a fair and affordable irrigation system for a productive and sustainable region.

On the other hand, withholding payment would result in higher costs for all users, punish the majority of irrigators who do the right thing and would not achieve the desired outcome.

Most of the concerns raised are about a suite of water policy issues that are outside the remit of Goulburn-Murray Water.

If some of our customers do not pay their bills, it creates a revenue shortfall for our business which we would have to resolve in order to provide services to our remaining customers. We could:

1) Collect more revenue from all customers at the next annual price review (pushing prices up); or

2) Collect the debt using our debt recovery process.

Without a doubt, recovering the debt is the best option and we will pursue that approach if required, to protect the vast majority of the 21 000 irrigation customers who pay their bills on time.

These customers understand that sustainable farming relies on a sustainable G-MW.

Water services committees also support the need for debt recovery when required because they understand the impact on those doing the right thing.

G-MW is aware of the issues being faced by our community.

We are delivering about half the water we did to irrigators 20 years ago, and in the same time frame we have experienced prolonged drought, floods and increasing periods of dry.

This is why we are focused on keeping prices down for customers.

Like all water corporations there is an underlying cost to provide a service to a person’s property.

Regardless of whether water is available or not, these costs are required to be recovered for the channel delivery network, including maintenance, renewable and upgrade of channels, pipes, regulators and bridges.

These costs do not vary with seasonal conditions and it is expected everyone pays for the upkeep of the system.

Thankfully, G-MW has been able to allocate water this season and a service is being provided.

We are committed to delivering this over the long-term and look forward to collaborating with our valued customers and the community to achieve our shared goals.