Water fee review may mean higher bills

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 May, 2010, 12:00am

Families - especially wasteful ones - may have to dig deeper to pay their water bills in future as the government moves to control use through charges.

A review that would end the freeze on water tariffs, in force since 1995, includes an option to punish excessive users with higher fees.

In a document to be tabled for discussion at a Legislative Council panel meeting next Tuesday, the Development Bureau suggests 'conservation through tariff review' as a means to manage water demand.

'It is too early to say that we are going to increase water charges across the board,' a Water Supplies Department spokesman said. 'There can be many ways to encourage people to use less water. We may add another tier of charges for excessive users. Or, we may provide greater incentives.'

Hong Kong's water consumption has risen steadily, from 212.7 litres a person a day in 2003 to 221.7 litres in 2007. The figure stood at 220 litres last year - up to 88 per cent higher than water use in some developed countries in Europe.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said last night that the government had no immediate plan to increase water tariffs. 'Water is a scarce resource. It is also the responsibility of Hong Kong to manage our water resources

'In many other places, there are studies on water charges as a means to adjust consumption. But we understand that this charge can affect people's livelihoods.'

Hong Kong's water charges are also among the lowest in the world.

Tariffs for domestic users are calculated in a four-tier system. The first 12 cubic metres is free, the next 31 cubic metres costs HK$4.16 a cubic metre, and the next 19 at HK$6.45 a cubic metre. Consumption above 62 is charged at HK$9.05 a cubic metre.

The Water Supplies Department said that 46 per cent of households had water charges of HK$25 or less a month while about 21 per cent paid more than HK$75. It comprisies just 0.3 per cent of the average total monthly household bill.

For business users, a flat rate is charged but charges vary for sectors. For example, the rate for trade is HK$4.58 a cubic metre, while that for construction is HK$7.11.

A department spokesman said there was no timetable for possible adjustments and promised there would be thorough consultation.

'We have taken note of the high water consumption and our analysis has indicated that the consumption comprises 130 litres of potable water and 90 litres of flushing water [per person a day],' the paper said.

'While around 80 per cent of flushing water in Hong Kong is seawater, it has not changed our primary objective of promoting water conservation ... we do not rule out the option of changing the water tariff structure to induce a reduction in consumption. We are reviewing the water tariff structure for this purpose.'

Hahn Chu Hon-keung, environmental affairs manager of Friends of the Earth, welcomed the move.

'Perhaps we should not see it as an increase in water charges. We should see it as how much in water costs the government should recover. If we believe in the user-pays principle, one should pay for what one has used.'

But Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong, of the pressure group Coalition to Monitor Public Transport and Utilities, said the economy had not yet fully recovered from the global financial crisis and it was not the right time to consider raising water fees.

High demand

The average Hongkonger used 212.7 litres of water a day in 2003, rising to 220 litres last year. Compared with some developed countries in Europe, that was this much higher: 88%