Water meters in Tasmania

It may come as a surprise to you that some suburban properties in Tasmania have unmetered water usage. That is, they are connected to mains water but they do not have a meter. But all this has started coming to an end – in April of this year, Southern Water (the newly formed company who took over the maintenance and administration of water and sewerage facilities from the councils in southern Tasmania) installed the first water meter in Howrah.

There has been plenty of opposition to the installation of water meters in suburban Tasmania.  And would you believe the most notable opposition is Hobart City Council. Most people who are opposed to having water meters installed say that they shouldn’t have to pay for water because there is plenty of water in Tasmania and we are never short of water. Other people say that if meters are installed then they won’t be able to afford to keep their garden watered and looking nice. Others say that it’s going to waste a lot of tax payer’s money because retrofitting meters to existing water infrastructure is not cheap.

But it’s not as if people who currently don’t have a water meter aren’t paying for their water. Currently the people who don’t have meters are charged for water based on the value of their property. I’m not sure what the exact formula for calculating water charges is but using a formula based on the value of the property does seem quite unfair because it means that if one person has a large family and uses a lot of water and their next door neighbor is a single person who doesn’t use even a third of what the large family is using, then the single person is paying the same amount of money for their water as the large family next door to them. So, if anything, the water meters will make it fairer for people who use less water, though will it mean that their water bill is reduced? Probably not because that’s not the way the world works – you don’t suddenly start paying less for something, prices go up as time goes on right?  I’ll be interested to know if anyone’s water does go down because of the new meters. What will probably happen is that Southern Water will give all the new meter people a base annual allowance of water that is included as part of their water rates and then once they go over that base amount then they start being charged per Kilolitre.

Oh and I should note that we dohave a water meter installed (in fact all properties that are connected to mains water in the Huon Valley, which is where we live, do have a meter, although they were only just installed in about 2006 or 2007). We have a base annual amount of water of 350,0000 litres (350 Kilolitres) (which is ordinarily impossible to exceed) included as part of our annual water rates and then we pay a per Kilolitre charge for any excess over the base amount.

One thing I should note for anyone who is considering buying a house in Tasmania for the purposes of renting it out is to make sure that your rental manager includes in the tenancy agreement a special provision that the tenant is liable for any excess water used. I feel this is important to mention because when we bought our house in 2008 we weren’t ready to move from Sydney straight away so we rented the house out for about 9 months before we made the move. After we had been living down here for 2 weeks we received a water bill for $988(!!) which was for water usage of 988 Kilolitres (988,000 litres) which was water in EXCESS of the portion of the base annual allowance for that bill. This made a total of 1.12 million litres (11.2 Kilolitres) that had escaped from our property. So while we were in Sydney getting on with our day-to-day lives, something very much out of the ordinary was happening with the water usage at our property down here. When we worked out the figures, we calculated that water was leaving our property at the rate of about 6,000 litres per day, which meant on average 250 litres of water per hour or 4.16 litres per minute was leaving our property contiuously 24 hours a day for 191 days straight! So to put this in perspective, it means that the equivalent of two 2 litre milk bottles were being filled every minute of every hour of every day for 191 days continuously.

To cut a long story short, to our dismay we found out that the tenant wasn’t liable for the bill because it’s not standard practice to include a water usage clause in Tasmanian tenancy agreements, and we didn’t specially request that a water usage clause go into the agreement (because we didn’t know we had to specially request it!). We ended up writing to the Council (who still managed the water service at the time) and we set out the figures for them which showed just how crazy the amount of water that left our property actually was. Thank goodness for us and thank goodness for common sense, two months later the Council wrote us a reply saying that they decided to waive the $988 bill. Needless to say we learnt a good lesson – always get a water usage clause added to your tenancy agreement if you are renting out!

And if you’re not buying a property to rent it out but will actually be living in it yourself, at the final walk-through inspection before settlement, make sure that you note down the numbers shown on the water meter (if one is installed) just in case there is a massive leak in the water pipes or just in case someone decides to tap into your water between the time that you settle and the time that you move in!

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