Water meter charges could be ramped up during summer dry spells to bolster conservation when Tauranga's water supplies come under the most pressure.
The prospect of stepped seasonal water charges was one of the options in a potentially far-reaching and controversial review into the way people paid for two fundamental council services.
It included changing how the city paid for disposing of its sewage (wastewater) from a simple fixed uniform annual charge to a volumetric system based on water meters. The tariff on wastewater would be set at the volume through the meter minus the amount not entering the sewerage system - such as garden watering.
The next step in the big-picture review ordered by the council last September was agreed this week. It goes beyond the current controversy in which the council sparked a community backlash when it threatened to increase household water charges by an average of $46 this year to recover a $3 million deficit in the water account.
It was the second time that the water account had gone into multi-million dollar deficits since universal metering was introduced in 2001. This was in contrast to the certainty of how the council recovered its domestic wastewater costs by dividing the total cost by the number of households so that everyone ended up paying the same regardless of whether they were in a one-bedroom unit or a family home.
The council has endorsed a list of priorities to guide council thinking on tariff reforms when the time came to make trade-offs.
The top priority was peak demand management - managing the demand for water when draw off was heaviest in dry times.
Water engineers justified this top ranking by saying it would further delay construction of a new water supply from the Waiari Stream near Te Puke and extend the life of existing water and wastewater assets.
The other high priorities were fairness and economic equity, management of average demand, and pricing stability.
Councillor Rick Curach asked the question: "Do we really need to go down this path to aggravate the community?"
Mayor Stuart Crosby said people would be screaming from the rooftops if they had to pay for water without meters.
Cr Tony Christiansen said the council was in a no-win situation trying to recoup its water costs.
"Is this the time that private enterprise comes in? I am only asking the question."'
Mr Crosby replied: "It was nice to know you Tony."