Water companies are losing 3,609 megalitres (or 3.6 billion litres) of water per day from their supply network. Thames Water alone loses the daily equivalent of 366 Olympic swimming pools (915 megalitres) from its supply pipes. This is an unacceptable position in the long term, but it would be wrong to blame leakage as the main cause of the problems the South East of England faced in summer 2005.

The Consumer Council for Water (CCWater) accepts that the largest single factor behind this summer’s shortages was dry weather, including one of the driest winters in the past 100 years. In fairness those water companies which were quick to impose hosepipe bans in June and July, such as Southern Water and Sutton & East Surrey Water, have a very good track record on controlling leakage. We support these companies’ restrictions on use; it is better to take precautions and encourage customers to use water wisely, rather than risk a larger water resources crisis later in the season.

However, supply problems from low reservoirs such as Weir Wood in Sussex acted as a timely alarm bell for the potential consequences of planned large-scale development in the South East, where this summer’s restrictions were concentrated.

The Government, regulators and the water industry should heed the warning, and develop a coherent plan to minimise wastage, extend metering to conserve resources and look at effective value-for-money options to meet future demand – including alternative sources such as new reservoirs, where appropriate (and environmentally acceptable). More sophisticated, ‘smart’ meters would also help both future consumers and the industry to keep track of use.

Metering has an important part to play in encouraging water conservation, minimising wastage, addressing leakage and reducing demand for water, especially at peak times. It also helps to concentrate customers’ minds on how much water they are using for everyday activities (although the evidence base for how much impact metering has on consumption needs vast improvement). Yet still little more than one in four customers (26%) use a water meter.

The current Rateable Value system, used to calculate most water customers’ bills in England and Wales, is archaic and makes it too easy to take secure water supplies for granted.

However, it would be premature and costly to introduce universal metering across the country, and we must not be carried away by the national (and South East based) media’s temptation to treat the current water resources problems as a national crisis. There are very significant regional variations in availability of supplies over the rest of England and Wales.

Any proposals to press ahead with more widescale metering must be subject to an assessment of the costs and benefits, and supported by robust evidence. Consumers must be confident that security of supply is delivered at a price they can afford and is supported by a sustainable water charging system.

The issue of demand and supply in water is something that water consumers as well as water companies need to be aware of. The practice of using water wisely is an issue that CCWater would encourage all water consumers to do, and welcomes the initiative by the Government to develop a water sustainability plan.

This is designed to encourage households to reduce consumption and use water more efficiently and involves all the major players in the water sector working together.

The water industry has a major part to play in putting its own house in order by cutting leakage and promoting water efficiency. Consumer will also be at the heart of this plan and the organisation has been asked to:

  • identify what water saving initiatives can help to save the most water; and

  • find out more about how we use water in the home.

    People need to think about conserving water for future generations. We all need to value water as a resource and to think seriously about how we use it. This is a particular issue in the south east of England where the amount of water used by individuals is higher than elsewhere in the England and Wales and is outstripping the amount of water available. With more homes planned in the south east and changes to our climate those resources will come under even greater pressure.

    CCWater is calling on consumers to rise to the challenge to use water wisely and in doing so help to safeguard supplies for the future. CCWater is ready to offer advice and tips on how to help conserve water.

    Teresa Evans, Head of Consumer Policy. Consumer Council for Water (CCWater)

    Water Saving Group – Action Plan

    Agreed by Water Saving Group comprising – Defra, Ofwat, Environment Agency, WaterUK, CCWater, waterwise.

    1. Measuring success

    Identify water stressed areas and goals and develop measures of success to go alongside practical measures for encouraging water efficiency.

    · Define most appropriate geographical coverage for new initiatives on water efficiency

    · Investigate possible benchmarks and targets for the water efficiency of each household, the overall consumption of water by all households and the quantity of water put into supply by companies.

    · For each option, evaluate its feasibility, its use, its impacts and its consequences.

    · Develop recommendations

    2. Information needs: gaps, priorities and funding.

    Consolidate and challenge the evidence base

    · Identify where there are gaps that inhibit effective intervention, including assessing the economic case for water efficiency.

    · Define how needs are to be prioritised.

    · Make appropriate use of relevant international experience

    · Consider if and how any extant or planned projects can contribute

    Develop prioritised proposals including well-targeted pilot studies to fill gaps

    · Defined by previous work on evidence base.

    · Establish agreed list of priorities

    · For each priority, consider how to ensure new evidence will be sufficiently robust to support cost benefit analysis

    · Need to identify funding needs and most appropriate arrangements

    3. Best practice in water company promotion of water efficiency: identifying it and applying it.

    Identify best practice in the delivery of water efficiency advice and support

    · Collect and collate information on company policies and initiatives.

    · Obtain quantitative and qualitative feedback on cost and efficacy from companies.

    · Produce company best practice ‘register’ to underpin further improvements in the industry.

    Develop incentives to companies for improving the promotion of water efficiency

    · Consider the adequacy and efficacy of the incentives on companies to include and carry out cost effective water efficiency research, pilots and full-scale measures as part of their supply and demand strategies in their business plans and water resource plans.

    4. Understanding and changing customer perceptions and raising awareness

    Secure a wider and better understanding of consumer knowledge of water resources and their views on water efficiency and consumption; educate consumers on the financial benefits of more efficient use of water and represent their views to regulators.

    · Research consumers’ knowledge base and attitudes, including using experience from pilot studies.

    · Develop and implement an educational plan which links water efficiency and bill impacts and which signposts sources of practical advice.

    · Provide consumer feedback

    Update and improve current sources of information and advice available to consumers on resource pressures and the importance of sustainability

    · Consider need for improvements in scope and availability of promotional and educational material

    · Update, develop and improve EA website on publications, information, tools and advice on water demand management to reflect WSG progress and outputs

    · All partners to consider treatment of water efficiency on their own websites and the signposting to others

    5. Policy and Regulatory Framework

    Take forward targeted action for increasing metering in water stressed areas, and improve the understanding and delivery of metering generally.

    · Review evidence (from 2 above) on the quantitative effect of metering on household consumption.

    · Assess the potential contribution to water efficiency from the projected application of current metering policy.

    · Encourage water companies to better use the current powers they have for promoting metering such as on change of occupier.

    · Develop and take forward options for increasing the particular circumstances in which companies have the discretion to meter, particularly in water stressed areas.

    · Consider the lessons learnt from a review of the current application for water scarcity status.

    · Encourage further applications for water scarcity status in water stressed areas and simplify the process.

    Pursue options for introducing a product labelling scheme

    Promote water efficiency of new buildings and developments

    · Develop and apply the Code for Sustainable Buildings.

    · Review Part G of the Building Regulations.

    · Review effectiveness of the Code after an agreed period.

    · Review of sustainability, including water, of existing dwellings.

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