10 November 2020

Is the cost of water killing community sport in Canberra?

| Tim Gavel
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Icon Water costs are making it difficult for sports organisations make ends meet. Photo: Supplied

The high cost of water is effectively stopping plans for improvement to Phillip Oval infrastructure. Photo: Supplied.

As you look across Canberra and witness the collective return to sport post-COVID-19, there is a feeling that a sense of normality is returning.

Most of us, after all, have grown up with the ability to play sport generally whenever facilities and competitions are available. For many, it is an important aspect of life in Canberra. The expectation is that it will always be there.

Below the surface, though, there are issues brewing which have the potential to impact on this apparent utopia.

Some clubs are struggling with their financial viability in the wake of COVID-19 because of the resultant significant revenue downturn through lack of registrations and sponsorship.

Another emerging impact has the potential to be the most significant of them all: the cost of water in Canberra.

Already we have seen the problems experienced by the Magpies-Belconnen Golf Club and the impact of high water costs.

The club uses treated water supplied by the government-owned Icon Water Limited. The increasing cost from Icon Water could result in the club closing by the middle of next year.

It is an issue being faced by operators of other facilities in Canberra.

The Phillip Oval Management Group administers the sporting facility that includes the headquarters for both ACT Cricket and AFL Canberra. Because of the presence of both cricket and AFL, the ground is used all year.

The cost of water to ensure the standard of the playing surface is maintained, has risen to around $75,000 in the past 12 months, which is around 45 per cent of its operating budget.

Paul Walshe is the chair of the Phillip Oval Management Group. He says the high cost of water is effectively stopping plans for improvements to the facility.

“We want to improve the infrastructure around the ground but it’s hard when you are paying so much for water. You are limited in what you can do.”

Paul Walshe at Phillip Oval. Photo: Supplied.

Paul Walshe, Chair of the Phillip Oval Management Group. Photo: Supplied.

He says there are plans to stage AFLW games and Women’s Big Bash matches at Philip Oval.

Walshe, who knows the utilities industry better than most, having worked for ACTEW for many years, is bemused by Icon Water’s pricing policy particularly when applied to water for community facilities.

“I think we need to look at why we pay so much for water here compared to other jurisdictions,” Paul said.

In South Australia, the government-owned SA Water has provided grants to sports organisations struggling financially because of COVID-19.

Paul Walshe says he has spoken with Icon Water about the impact of the cost of water on the running of the facility.

He says the management group has done everything possible to reduce costs and says it’s now up to Icon Water.

“Icon Water needs to be working more closely with community groups,” he said.

Hopefully commonsense prevails.

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Steve Netting7:55 am 12 Nov 20

We have different but comparable frustrations in Sydney from the disconnects between layers of government. As a nation – health costs, obesity, pressure and wellbeing risks on young people are all increasing. Sport, activity, engagement and bonds from community sport such as BJ_ACT’s Lui example all help. In Sydney local councils close grounds with the sniff of rain so they don’t have to spend as much on ground maintenance, ignoring the bigger picture and bigger opportunity cost….

The cost of social sports in Canberra is ridiculous. $500 a season for soccer, $650 a season for cricket. So much of the fees go towards government ground hire, insurance and water charges.

How can less wealthy families afford the registration costs let alone the equipment? It’s ridiculous.

Nice story yesterday about Raiders journeyman Lui who will play his first game for Queensland tonight. He personally thanked two families who paid for his junior registrations when his family couldn’t afford it.

Terribledriver9:53 pm 11 Nov 20

The system is skewed for the benefit of wealthy people.

The Belconnen Magpies one is bizarre. Its an ad hoc arrangement using water from the treatment plant that otherwise just goes down the stream to NSW. Why Icon Water is charging such a high price I’ll never understand – just charge the marginal cost/Water Abstraction Charge surely?

I’m intrigued however what is driving significant increases in water costs at Phillip however.

The price of water provided by Icon Water has been pretty stable for a few years now, with very little increase – I think they froze the overall bill or something as part of COVID for 2020-21. I assume what is happening is they need additional water to maintain at a higher standard to what it was previously, hence leading to higher bills. That’s a very different story to ‘prices are going up so it’s all Icon Water’s fault’, which is what this article is suggesting reading between the lines.

In the broader discussion in cases where potable water is being used – it is important to remember that if subsidies are provided, then ultimately you, me and everyone else ends up paying for it through higher prices for our usage. Icon Water is allowed $X million per year for its business by the regulator, and if some users get a discounted rate, invariably it will be paid for by the rest of the customers through higher prices, or alternatively by the taxpayer through direct Government subsidies. So be careful what one wishes for.

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