Think tank calls for water meters as drought warnings grow

With the Environment Agency warning of drought in many parts of the UK already this year, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has called for greater use of water meters in the South East.

The IPPR working paper - Managing Water Resources and Flood Risk in the South East - highlights the fact that, unlike other utilities, there is little incentive for most people to use less water as most households are charged a fixed rate rather than being measured on a unit basis.

The South East is one of the regions most likely to be affected by drought and water shortages, the Environment Agency has warned. In addition, the IPPR report points out, each person in the South East, on average, uses an extra 15 litres of water a day compared to those in the rest of England.

However, water metering can reduce household water consumption by an average of 9% per year. The report cites a family in Hastings who managed to save an £99 a year by reducing water consumption.

Louise Every, IPPR researcher and co-author of the report, said: "The South East has some of the highest rates of household water use in the country with climate change and population growth expected to further increases demand. Getting people to pay for the water they use through metering is a fairer way to pay and will encourage people to use water efficient appliances in their homes. This will help avoid future restrictions."

Out of the three companies supplying water to the region, only Anglian Water has achieved a 50% metering rate. Three Valleys Water, Southern Water and Mid Kent Water are not expected to achieve similar levels of metering until 2010.

In addition to metering, the paper recommends that the Government should:

  • Revise building regulations to require all new homes to meet a minimum of 20% reduction in water use;
  • Encourage the voluntary code for Sustainable Buildings, currently being developed to aim for water efficiency standards that go beyond the minimum required by Building Regulations. This may involve changes to the way people use water and options such as grey-water recycling will need public acceptance;
  • Introduce a Water Efficiency Commitment for improving the water efficiency of new and existing homes. Ofwat could co-ordinate the effort and Government could provide grants to help subsidise the cost to lower income families.

    The paper is the latest from IPPR's Commission on Sustainable Development in the South East.

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