Opinion

Alarmed by the inequities of water pricing

By Country News

By Robert Campbell, McMillan

At last we have engagement from the top of the Goulburn-Murray Water tree — the right buttons must have been pushed to elicit a response.

It is apparent that there is little understanding of why bills aren’t being paid. “Fairer means sharing” sounds like a socialist term for everyone must pay whether they receive a service or not, rather than fairer being a user pays system.

The system is currently a capitalist free market whether we like it or not — so changes to billing must be reflective of actual use. However under current arrangements non-water consuming customers (including those who cannot afford water and thus cannot grow produce and generate an income stream), are still expected to subsidise active customers who have the wherewithal to sustain operations.

What is G-MW’s justification for charging a land tax on customers based on historical use? Delivery share is used to quantify this tax and has no current association with landowners’ or lease holders’ ability or need to use water.

No other utility bases any charges on historical use and surely the Essential Services Commission will, in time, question the validity of this rating system.

Seasonal volatility is amplified by government maladministration, with unbundling of water from land leading to uncontrolled and secretive water trading — also carryover becoming individual rather than communal, along with the blatant transmission losses unfactored into the now water commodity.

Furthermore the inequity of each megalitre of water not attracting associated transmission losses as it is traded downstream, reduces customers’ available allocation.

G-MW management has been complicit allowing these changes to occur in clear disregard for its customer base, which it requires to remain viable for its own sustainability.

It is also evident that some historic bills will never be reclaimed. Many landowners/lessees have their backs against the wall and little or no cash reserves or equity left. Debt collection will be futile in these scenarios.

G-MW has lost control of the water allocated to the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District which has destabilised income. The flow-on effects of less water is obvious, with low productivity leading to lower cash turnover throughout the region.

Perhaps G-MW should be putting more energy into regaining control and utilising assets more efficiently.

The customers of G-MW aren’t at fault for the automation upgrades removing low-cost, low-maintenance Dethridge wheels, with high-cost, high-maintenance outlets, replaced on the premise of accuracy, which is highly debatable with a properly set wheel. Many of the modern outlets are either underutilised or unused.

The NVIRP/Connections project has been poorly administered and is creating new maintenance challenges and imposing higher costs upon customers forced off gravity supply.

Due to factors out of G-MW control, the goal posts have moved — therefore the strategy must completely change to reflect this.

Water runs through a highly regulated system designed to work within seasonal constraints and demands. It is inflexible. The water that was allocated to each locality therefore must be linked to maintenance and operating costs from whence it came. The infrastructure was built specifically for that allocation and the efficiency is waning due to the lack of water throughput.

Through natural attrition many older farmers retire and so does the land, due to irrigation's prohibitive costs.

The fundamentals must change. The system which was once sustainable now is only a skeleton of its past.

G-MW must work together with customers to achieve a sustainable outcome. Status quo will not suffice and is destined to fail.