Water targets needed to save ‘more than a mugful’

Water companies are saving no more than a mug of water per customer per year because of their failure to invest in household water efficiency, a report from an influential Labour think tank says.

The report from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) calls for water efficiency targets as a way of jolting water companies into action – with a fine for those who do not meet their targets. It also advocates more compulsory water metering for water-stressed areas.

Water providers across England and Wales are only spending an average 11p per customer per year to stop increasingly scarce water going to waste, according to the Every Drop Counts report.

The IPPR recommends a water version of the Energy Efficiency Commitment, a policy instrument that obliges gas and electricity suppliers to improve energy efficiency in homes.

Louise Every, who led the research, told edie: “Some companies are spending a lot on water efficiency and some very little. We have looked at the Energy Efficiency Commitment, how efficient it has been and how early the targets were met, so aspects of that could be applied to the water sector.”

She stressed that targets would be set not in terms of the amount of water a company saves, but the water-saving measures it implements, which should translate into water savings if used correctly by customers. “Water companies cannot be responsible for the way their customers use water,” she said.

This “Water Efficiency Commitment,” complemented by a Government benchmark for per-capita water use, could be in force by 2014-15, the IPPR calculates. Currently, residents of England and Wales use 150 litres of water daily, putting Britain well behind countries like Germany and Denmark where the figure stands at 127 litres.

Overall, improving water efficiency could bring water savings of 12 to 30% in existing housing stock, research shows.

Binding water efficiency targets could make “a significant contribution” to cutting demand to match supply. Ian Kearns, ippr Deputy Director said that “water companies should be doing more” to improve water efficeincy.

“A Water Efficiency Commitment that sets minimum targets, enforced by the regulator, Ofwat, would incentivise water companies to help their customers improve the water efficiency of their homes,” he said.

They could do so through grants and incentives for water-saving toilets, taps and showerheads but also more sophisticated means such as rainwater harvesting systems, the IPPR report said.

But it also called for more research into the efficiency of particular water saving device – while some, such as dual-flush toiles, have proven water-saving credentials, for others information is limited.

The IPPR also recommends compulsory water meters, but only in areas of water stress – this should not be misinterpreted as compulsory water metering rolled out across the country, Louise Every pointed out.

When it came to the question of how a “water-stressed area” might be defined, the EA is working on such a definition, due to be published soon.

Currently only 28% of homes in England and Wales are metered, and the introduction of compulsory meters by Folkestone and Dover water company, which has been granted water scarcity status, has been met with resistance over the perceived rises in water rates.

But 70% of all customers actually pay less when metered, according to the report, which suggests accompanying measures to protect low-income households from potentially higher water bills.

Water efficiency has suffered neglect while the spotlight has been on cutting leaks and meeting leakage targets since the 2004-2006 drought brought out water resources an issue for Britain, said the IPPR. But most water companies are actually meeting leakage targets, Ofwat figures show.

“The media debate has tended to point a finger at water companies for leakage, with a sideline message of ‘we can also all do out bit,'” said Louise Every . But by encouraging domestic water efficiency with water-saving incentives and compulsory water metering, water companies can share more of that responsibility with customers, she said.

The IPPR report can be downloaded here.

Goska Romanowicz

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