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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Water bill could force Belconnen golf club to close

Magpies Belconnen Golf Club has two options – come to a reasonable agreement with Icon Water or close its doors when the current lease is up in June next year.

The Golf Club uses “treated effluent” for irrigation of the course, as opposed to other ACT golf courses situated closed enough to rivers and lakes to pump water out of those.

As a result, the northside golf club is paying $2.40 per kilolitre for their non-potable water supplied by Icon, which represents a 2,567% increase since 2006 when it was at 9 cents per kilolitre.

Those pumping out of ACT river and lake systems pay a Water Abstraction Charge (WAC) of 31.5 cents per kilolitre, which is then subsidised to around 10 cents per kilolitre through the Market Equity Scheme (MES) and other efficiency offsets.

Over last summer alone, the Magpies Belconnen Golf Club incurred a nearly $150,000 bill from Icon Water for their usage over the hot, dry 2019-20 summer, in comparison to a cost of $7,600 if the same volume had been pumped from a body of water.

Belconnen Magpies Sports Club general manager Paul Netting said he isn’t looking for charity from the water utility, but a fair go.

“Our golf course was built over 40 years ago based on the understanding we could get reasonably priced water from the treatment plant four kilometres away. The price is going up so rapidly,” he said.

“What we used in last summer, using that in three of four years’ time, we would be up for a bill of $300,000. If we close, 44 loyal, valued employees lose their jobs. The treated effluent we don’t use flows into New South Wales where it is sold for less than 1c per kilolitre. It just defies logic.”

The Magpies Belconnen Golf Club is in negotiations with Icon Water to lock in a long-term rate for treated effluent. Photo: Kerrie Brewer.

While the Independent Competition and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) set and regulate potable water prices in the ACT, Icon Water have control over the treated effluent water prices.  

An Icon Water spokesperson said the company followed the same model as the ICRC when pricing their non-potable water, including maintenance and energy costs, however, did not quantify how much these were.

“Whilst the ICRC do not regulate non-potable pricing, we apply the same principles of ensuring that we recover the cost to serve, are equitable to the broader community, and that we operate with prudency and efficiency,” they said.

“These costs include operation and maintenance of the required infrastructure along with associated energy costs to pump the recycled water from the treatment plant.

“There are also ongoing lifecycle costs such as future renewals that must be factored in.”

Icon Water have also stated that recycled water treatment costs are covered by all customers who use the product; however, the Magpies Belconnen Golf Club have confirmed with Icon they are the only customer on this particular line.

“While the costs associated with removal and treatment of sewage are applied to our wider customer base who also utilise this service, the costs associated with recycled water must be covered in the price of recycled water and applied to our customer base that use this product,” the spokesperson said.

The Golf Club has been corresponding with Icon Water and the ACT Government since the start of the year about pricing, with a further meeting taking place this week.

Icon Water have promised to get back to the Magpies Belconnen Golf Club by the end of this week, with some proposed long-term pricing plans.

Mr Netting said he is hoping for a reasonable proposal, or the club will no longer be viable past its lease in June 2021.

“We just need a long-term, reasonably-priced water supply so we can make long-term decisions. You’re not going to enter another lease if they are going to charge you $2.40 or more every year after that,” he said.

“If we can get some relief for the current financial year, with the bushfires golf was down about 15%, which is significant, and then the COVID-19 closure, our revenue was down about $350,000 over a four-month period.

“Even if we locked in a rate at a quarter of that, it’s still a rate of around $50,000 which is a lot more than other clubs.”

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