21 December 2020

Why the cost of water in Canberra is causing so much angst in the sports community

| Tim Gavel
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Phillip Oval

The Phillip Oval management has expressed concern about the continued increase of costs associated with water on their business model Photo: Supplied.

There needs to be a summit to resolve the issue of the cost of water for sports organisations in the ACT.

Fifteen years ago, in the wake of the drought, there was high-level discussion about the use of recycled water on Canberra’s sports fields.

We were told it was a priority. Yet many years down the track very little has changed. So as we head into the hottest part of summer, many sports organisations face the prospect of a significant rise in water consumption to maintain their facilities.

Accompanied by an increase in consumption is, of course, an increase in the cost of operating sports facilities in Canberra.

Time is running out for the Belconnen Magpies Golf Club. They have to make a decision about whether they can afford to continue to operate the club beyond the current lease on 31 March.

McKellar Park

Canberra United has moved their home games from McKellar with water costs being a factor in the move. Photo: Supplied.

Canberra United has moved their home games to Viking Park with the cost of water cited as one of the reasons why McKellar is out of action.

The management team at Phillip Oval has also expressed concern about the continued increase in costs associated with water on their business model.

I have called around to a number of clubs in Canberra and they are all experiencing similar problems. The two major issues remain the cost of ground hire, with the high price of water cited as one of the reasons behind the high cost. The other concern is the impact of the two-week shutdown period between summer and winter usage.

They tell me they were grateful for the moratorium on ground hire charges, but many are struggling to see light at the end of the tunnel.

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To make matters even more unpalatable, the cost of hiring facilities such as sports fields across the border in Queanbeyan is considerably less.

It has come to the point where there needs to be a summit to resolve the problem in Canberra before sports simply walk away from facilities.

This would leave the government left to maintain facilities that are under-utilised.

Surely a solution would be to build recycled water infrastructure as was proposed at the height of the drought, which would allow for the use of recycled water on all of Canberra’s sporting facilities.

Another option, of course, is to introduce an affordable flat rate for water for community organisations such as sports clubs.

The hope is that common sense prevails before it’s too late.

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Here we go again! Rent-seeking sports clubs want to shift the cost of THEIR water use onto other consumers. A few years ago, the clubs, using pseudo-economics, tried to have the water use charges decreased substantially, and the flat fees increased substantially. That way, their bills would reduce, and every household would pay exorbitant per litre costs.

That would be despite every Canberra household significantly reducing their water use during the drought, which ensured that expensive new water infrastructure was not needed.

Now the clubs are having another go – this time, wanting all rate-payers to subsidise their water use, whether the public uses those facilities or not. Surely even the clubs understand the concept of user pays!

The problem is that it’s not necessarily a level playing field.

Sports clubs have a number of agreements and limitations placed on them by government, these sporting organisations often pay for water at a higher rate than some other businesses and organisations and some sports even have to pay a water fee when it rains (crazy).

It’s an inconsistent system, but the cost of organised sport in Canberra is very high and a large proportion of these costs are water charges and insurances. This is whilst the ACT Government fully cover or exempt the water costs for some other activities and facilities.

ACT Government provides a lot of services and facilities for cycling (and so they should, it’s a good public health measure) but some sports get a rough deal in Canberra compared to other Australian towns and cities.

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