Proposals for more flexible policy on water meters

Posted: Wednesday 31st January 2007

Two connected consultations announced recently seek the views of stakeholders on important changes to water resources policy in England.

Both sets of proposals have been developed through the Water Saving Group (WSG) representatives of government, regulators, water companies, consumer and water efficiency interests.

Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) consults on draft proposals for water metering in areas of serious water stress.

The Environment Agency (EA) consults on identifying areas of water stress.

As a member of the WSG, Water UK welcomes these consultations which should lead to more robust policy for securing the public water supply and environmental benefits in the future.

Areas of water stress

The proposals for identifying water stress are based on five factors: current and forecast demand, forecast population growth, current and forecast availability.

Using these data the EA has placed each water company supply area in one of three water stess bands - serious, moderate or low.

It may be helpful to highlight several points from the consultation paper to make this a little clearer:

1) The allocations are made at company, rather than supply zone level, which means some sacrifice of precision. The calculations can be refined to give a more accurate picture in future.

2) The allocations are not measures of the level of risk to the public water supply.

3) The focus is as much on the future health of the environment as on social and economic impact.

4) They do not take into account company water resource plans, including supply side measures to increase long term security of supply.

5) They do not indicate how individual water companies are performing.

Water companies already promote water efficency. This proposal will help identify areas where even greater efforts may be warranted on environmental grounds.

Water metering in areas of serious water stress

The proposals will streamline the process by which water companies in areas of serious water stress can introduce a policy of compulsory metering.

Water UK supports the more flexible and company-specific approach to meter installation described in the consultation. Water meters are one of a range of tools available for managing demand cost-effectively.

Current policy, which permits meters to be fitted only in limited circumstances (to new properties; at the request of a householder; when swimming pools or certain devices are in use) is inefficient from an environmental and economic perspective.

Water UK agrees with the environment minister Ian Pearson who launched the consultation that it will be important to consider the impact on large low income households if compulsory metering in areas of serious water stress goes ahead.

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