Scenic Rim families to face sky-high water bills

WATER: Scenic Rim water bills will go up even more if plans for a desalination plant on the Sunshine Coast are approved.
WATER: Scenic Rim water bills will go up even more if plans for a desalination plant on the Sunshine Coast are approved.

SCENIC RIM families are already paying more than double the cost of water in other parts of Australia but can expect a price rise of up to $100 a year on their household water bills by 2021.

The news comes after a report released by the Queensland Competition Authority during the Commonwealth Games recommended price increases of more than five per cent for Scenic Rim residents. 

Bond University assistant professor and water management expert Victoria Baumfield said the price rises were largely due to massive debt incurred to build infrastructure including a desalination plant at Tugun.

“I have spent the past six years researching how things have changed since the state took over water assets from individual councils in 2008,” she said. 

“The millenium drought had seen dam levels down to 17 per cent and everyone was freaking out, asking why it was that we were running out of water.”

She said water management had initially been the responsibility of individual councils but the government took over to install a more uniform plan for water supplies and one of the first things it did was to build new plants and pipelines, leaving the state with a debt that has now ballooned to near $9 billion.

“There might have been a bit of panic involved and there have been suggestions that the state over-invested and the work was done less efficiently than it might have been,” she said.

“They haven’t collected enough money to even pay the interest and full cost pricing means SEQ Water, which owns all the dams and pipelines, will pass on all costs, including debts.

“So your water bill shows that you are paying your pro-rata share of the infrastructure debt.”

QCA chairman Professor Roy Green said bulk water charges accounted for about 30 per cent of an average household water and sewerage bill.

He said bulk water prices had varied from council to council but a single common price for a kilolitre – 1,000 litres – was expected to apply across SEQ by the end of the decade.

Professor Baumfield said some councils had already paid much less for water than others so felt the pinch more severely when prices started to go up as part of a plan to share the burden equally across all regions.

Because the price increased had been staggered over some years to avoid the shock of residents copping a massive overnight price hike three of the 11 councils had yet to reach a common price.

“The good news is, half of the pain has already happened for people in the Scenic Rim because they are already on usage charges of $2.81 per kilolitre,” she said.

“Hopefully price rises in the future will be limited, unless it is decided that more infrastructure is needed.

“I read recently that there was talk of a desalination plant for the Sunshine Coast, so if that happens  everyone who takes water from the grid will have to pay for it.”