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Last Updated: Monday, 13 August 2007, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Pulling the plug on wasting water
David Brown
David Brown

Extreme weather events, whether it is floods or droughts, threaten to undermine future water supplies, says David Brown. In this week's Green Room, he argues that attitudes have to change if the taps are not going to run dry.

Dripping tap (Getty Images)
Like it or not, our attitudes have to change
Water, water, everywhere? Not if we continue to take our supply for granted.

Over the past month, the news has been dominated by the impact of devastating floods around the world.

The threat of extreme weather appears to be increasing year-on-year, with devastating results. Millions of people in South Asia have been left with no access to drinking water - instead, they are surrounded by unusable flood water.

While in the UK, those affected by the floods continue to clear up the damage and count the cost; estimates have already passed the £2bn ($4bn) mark.

It is time that the bigger issues were addressed. Are we prepared for another flood? How can we conserve water? What steps is the government taking to develop alternative sources of clean water? How can the public be better educated and informed about sensible water usage?

More than a billion people worldwide do not have access to adequate supplies of safe water, and less than 10% of the world's population receives a treated water supply.

We all know how essential water is to all forms of life and yet, certainly within the UK, calls for universal metering or higher charges are often met with public outrage. But like it or not, our attitudes have to change.


There are two aspects to the challenge we are facing:

  • educating the public to be more sensible and economical with their water usage
  • finding, implementing and funding effective treatment and usage for waste water on a larger scale

If we carry on regardless, there is a real danger the same problems encountered recently by UK flood victims will arise time and time again. More people will be without water to drink, wash or cook.

Implementing a suitable charging policy must centre on changing the mindset of the developed world towards its use of water.

People carry possessions through floodwater (Getty Images)
Globally, more people are becoming aware of the situation we face and are concerned enough to do something about it

Some consumers simply don't understand the environmental impact of their water usage.

A report by the Earth Policy Institute last year revealed that we consumed 154bn litres of bottled water a year, 25% of which was imported.

Nor do consumers fully appreciate the costs and technological challenges of providing and maintaining water supply and treatment infrastructures.

Regulatory changes are an important requirement in promoting a more responsible attitude towards water usage, but perhaps the greatest progress will result from greater acceptance of the concept of water reuse, particularly by Western consumers.

Huge advances are being made in water treatment by chemical engineers across the world. But ironically, it is currently cheaper to use treated water for non-drinking purposes, such as washing vehicles or watering our gardens, than to introduce methods that use alternative sources. This has to change.

Water charges

Chemical engineers are working on techniques such as membrane separation that uses a process called reverse osmosis to improve the way we purify our water.

Reverse osmosis is a separation process that uses pressure to purify water, removing unwanted components, such as salt in sea water.

In the USA, a team at Dowling College, New York, responded to the challenge presented by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by developing a simple water purification technique that destroyed more than 99% of the harmful bacteria found in New Orleans' ground water.

Although the water was still undrinkable, it could be used for other purposes. The technique is a considerable step toward limiting the spread of disease following natural disasters, including floods and earthquakes.

Globally, more people are becoming aware of the situation we face and are concerned enough to do something about it.

Parched soil in western Turkey (Getty Images)
Changes to the climate could affect long-established water supplies

The contributions made by chemical engineers will be crucial in solving the water conundrum.

But they must be combined with support from governments and international bodies through the implementation of sustainable regional water management strategies, especially by realistic charging.

Charging for water usage will not only help provide the funding we need to take these technologies forward, but will also help to instil a sense of responsibility among consumers.

Although, in the UK, we currently pay our water companies for our supplies, the majority of consumers do not think twice about the actual volumes of water they're using, or indeed, wasting.

Inevitably there will be opposition. Asking people to pay more for their water supplies will not be popular, but it is essential.

The word supplies is a key one. This is not about asking people to pay more for water per se, it is about asking people to pay for the water they use.

Appropriate pricing for water use will encourage consumers to take a more sensible and considered approach to water consumption and help us to reinforce the crucial three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.

This maxim underpins sustainable chemical engineering in the 21st Century and features heavily in our Jubilee report, which celebrates 50 years of IChemE's chartered status.

David Brown is chief executive of the Institution of Chemical Engineers

The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website

Do you agree with David Brown? Does our attitude towards water need to change? Will charges help us use water more carefully? Or is there more than enough of the blue stuff to meet everyone's needs?

Nationalise the water industry if you want us all to use water more economically. I pay nearly £300 a year for my water therefore, I will use it as I see fit. After all, It is my money. Anyway, in London at least, water down the drain is not wasted - it just goes back into the system along with the recycled urine, bathwater etc from several million Londoners the processing of which makes large profits for water companies.
Emily Goodrum, London

This seems to be a developed world debate but as a water manager in Africa,i think there is more than meets the eye.Its not just about water and use and water prices.Its also about the service.I will give an example in Africa.Sometimes, water companies behave and give water effectivey and efficiently, and then comes this rare day, when you open your taps and there is no water.No caution was put forth and so, all are caught unaware.The next day, the same thing happens...people complain and somehow, for the strangest reasons, water comes back.What would a normal human being do,try and fill all the cans for storage and then, as long as water is there, use it as if there is no tomorrow.What causes this, ineffeicency in service delivery.So, i agree with most of you...water companies need to stop blaming the users and blame themselves for not have appropriate modes of ensuring good water demand management and supply skills.Its not just about awarenes, but the policy neds to work f! or those who are already aware for we all kow, especially in Africa, that WATER IS SCARCE and for a long time have treated it with utmost respect.
Damaris Mungai, Nairobi,Kenya

Why should we bend over backwards simply to preserve the profits of the privatised water companies? This is Britain, not Africa. We're swimming in water...
Kevin Goold, Cardiff

We have two main problems with water supply: It is sold to us by corporations who's motivation is profit and only profit. We have a constant and uncontrolled increase in demand - the increase in population in the UK and many other countries is out of control. When asked, governments can't credibly even guess at the figures involved. We have to discuss the causes, not the symptoms, or the water supply difficulties will never be overcome.
Steve Broadbent, Norwich, UK

Originally Scottish, I now live in Australia. We are facing Level 5 water restrictions after a very long drought. Not only do we pay for every drop of water but are given a usage target. If we use over our limit we are sent a "please explain" letter. After years of watching the rain fall daily in the Highlands I now have a much greater appreciation of every precious drop as we watch the trees and gardens die.
Fiona Fraser, Brisbane, Australia

Protecting fresh water supplies is worth paying for but wouldn't it be best if a revenue stream also flowed as a cost of production imposed on the manufacture of consumer goods. So much is made in places like China these days it's hardly fair the people there have to endure rising background levels of pollution for the sake of low prices.
Dale Lanan, Longmont, Colorado USA

I agree with a lot of the points made. I think it's crazy that people use purified drinking water to wash a car or their path. I also think the water companies should not have been privatized in the first place since that happened they have closed many reservoirs. I don't really remember hearing about a water shortage before privatization. Surely if they were run as a non profit organization (we're talking about water) investing the money back into the system rather than running at huge profits and asking us to pay more everyone would be happy. Well all those not trying to get rich from an essential substance for life.
James, London

The issue here is that we use all our drinking water for every household use, from washing the car to flushing the toilet. The re-education of the public and our water habits should address this balance. Metering would then make sense - a higher rate for drinking, a much lower rate for alternative use. Economics would take care of it for us. If there's one country in the world where access to water should not be an issue, it's the UK!
Rob G, Reading

So many sensible comments to my mind. I particularly like the idea of a free quota (per person), then pay (at increasing rates the mor eover the quota you use!), and the national grid for water (I think we almost used to have this). Water is a necessity - it shouldn't be in private hands - the privatisation cop out did so much harm - yes we needed better management, yes we needed investment - but has privatision delivered either - apart from fat profits to shareholders as the companies get sold off to big corporates.
Stewart Watson, Didcot, Oxon, UK

Wait, in the UK your water is FREE? Here in the US, I pay a charge for water service and the amount of water I use, and also a fee for wastewater. I have never wanted recycling systems so much as I do for water. The effluent from a wastewater plant is at a very good starting place for treating into potable water.
Shelly Smith, Kansas City KS USA

I admit to being baffled by this article. I understand the need for conserving water, waste not-want not. However, if we rigidly control water consumption iand a devastating flood comes - knocks out power and pipes, won't we still be left with undrinkable water? Measures to decrease climate-changing man-made waste, and to build protective measures against floods seem like a much wiser mission if floods are your fear.
K Hawley, Minneapolis, MN USA

I think this article to be ridiculous in almost every regard but let's just keep it simple:(1) we in Britain live in a rainy country (2)Britain is an Island. It's clear that we do not suffer from water shortage, what we suffer from is poor infrastructure and lack of imagination. It is the South East of England that has a problem and that could be solved either by piping water down from the North or by building Wind Powered desalination plants as in Western Australia.

England is an island, surrounded by water. There should never be a lack of water here, until the sea dries up. The water companines need to stop being so cheap, fix the leaks, and invest in a few desalination plants.
MikeJJ, Lincolnshire, England

This whole issue is again down to education. I recently did some research on how to reduce the water consumption of my house and came up with a number of things. It wasn't that long ago that most toilets were outside the house and I have written to my local planning authority to see what restrictions there are for building a compost toilet in my back garden. I am also considering a way of recycling bath/shower (and rain) water for reuse in flushing the toilet indoors. I have also read of systems employing natural filters that can be used to treat toilet (or black water as it is known) that would mean almost no waste water would leave my house for the treatment plants. I am also aware that filter systems exist that can purify rain water for the purpose of drinking. All these things exist NOW and yet nothing is being done by our government to research and understand these concepts and make them policy when it comes to new builds. Of course, until people start educating themsel! ves and trying to implement these ideas for themselves nothing will change. It is time for people to stop looking to someone else for answers and to take up what sounds like a very interesting challenge for themselves. Search out 'Earthship' on the internet and you will see a group of people who have been working for the last 30 years or so on all of the challenges? and more.
john, sheffield

Pay the shareholders in H2O!
Nepomucene D'Albret, Paris France

Most of the comments on here are a bit odd. Bottom line, people are too reliant on other people doing things for them. The water in your home has been collect, processed and transported to your house, of course it will cost money. But it doesn't have to, we all have a large amount of rainfall on our roofs. Collect it, use it. Set up a system to flush your toilet with it. It's really simple and there are plenty of guides on how to do it.
Chris, Leeds

I keep seeing the comments of water coming from the sky. With the warming though, the air holds more water, and it doesn't come down. I have been watching the big rivers and lakes in the area dwindle away in the past years. Here, we are on manditory water restrictions with no watering of lawns or washing cars, and only hand watering of gardens. Also, the flooding mentioned hurts the infrastucture that provides the clean drinking water. The waste reclaimation plants over flow, and wind up contaminating all the water in the area. Thus, even if you have water available, it is not usable. Now, I don't htink that changing consumption habits will prevent floods, but a better understanding of this important resource would go far.
Mike Hoyes, Kannapolis NC, USA

Why are we not looking at desalination? We are an island surrounded by water! Isn't it about time that we looked at this for another water source? How much water do we waste on washing machines, toilets etc? Why can't we have a third tap for this sort of thing? Although considered expensive, if islands like Lanzarote can do it, why can't we? Wake up people, with the sea levels rising, why aren't we looking at this?
Nicky Durrant

As with so many of these enviromental problems it's not a shortage of water, or an increase in greenhouse gasses that's the problem. These are simply symptoms of a human overpopulation. Are we going to let natural disaters wipe us out are are we going to start global population planning?
James Smith, Bracknell

HAving been lucky enough in years gone by to travel to some parts of the world that were, relatively speaking, off the beaten track I think most people in the UK have absolutely no idea how lucky we are in being able to turn a tap and have clean, fresh drinking water gushing out. I can never understand why people regularly buy bottled stuff (even if you feel your local water has a weird taste then invest in a simple filter), so why not actually tax that ? It'd get more people drinking the stuff from the tap that's for sure. As for meters, charging is - sadly - one of the few things that seems to focus people's minds on their usage. And we shouldn't forget that the basic commodity of water needs something else to make it move around the system ; namely electricity for pumping etc. Less water used = less electricity = less carbon = some relief for the environment and less severe weather...
Bob Pritchard, UK

I belive that our mentality about water is spoiled, we are used to have water at all times and we take it for granted; I was living in Israel for a year and the mentality about the use of water is different as the one we have in europe, they take care way more theyre resourses and people undertand that water is precious, what do we need to do is to educate peaople of the importance of water as we are living in the same worl we have to take care of it as is we damage our resouces is not only affected in one area but afect us all, hpefully we will come to a time where we all will respect nature, and take care of our beautifull world.
Luis Toledo, Cork, Ireland

As per usual, this man is using a "green" policy to further tax and control us. What the heck has the amount of water in other countries to do with the UK? Is he planning to ship it to Africa? No of course not. The amount of water falling on the UK FAR exceeds what we could ever use if collected and shipped without losing so much. The same company loses 10 times as much in the UK as in Germany. Why? Because it is allowed to. But rather than do their job, it is much easier for the water companies to restrict our supplies, charge more, and brow beat us as being "evil to the planet" if we don't agree with them!!!
Sean Swales, Nottingham

We needa brown water supply, either piped to our house or an easy a cheap way to fit oue ourselves. The water companies need to fix leaks and stop selling water. I remember afew years back a hosepope bank in Halifax, I onl lkived 2 mins walk from the local resevoir was overflowing, the only reason Halifax had the hosepipe ban was so they could sell the water to those in the south. Another idea, is Desalination plants You even get sea salt as a bi product. Or evne personal water prurification systems in your hope, so you can process your own waste water and rain water ( but then they couldn't charge us for the water we use ). Their are lots of otptions, but not of them put money in the pockets of shareholders.
Gabriel Strange, York, UK

Let's be clear: the UK is NOT short of water. It never has been and never will be. The southest of the UK and some other localised areas are. The problem is that the water is in the wrong place and the water companies, answering as they must to their shareholders, have neither the capital nor the incentive to put the infrastructure in place to move it. Water meters (I'm on one by the way) will make no difference to the underlying problem.
steve deeley, swindon

I'm from Sheffield and we have loads of reservoirs round here. I've also lived in Gloucestershire where there were less. Would I have to pay the same regardless of where I live? Experience suggests yes, I would, but to be fair shouldn't the lucky inhabitants of a water-rich city (no jokes please) be paying less for a resource which is more abundant in their area? London has to treat its water more than just about anywhere else in Britain, shouldn't they be charged the most?
Boy, Sheffield, UK

Water meters are okay provided that the rates charged are strictly regulated. Here in the UK most domestic users pay a set rate for their water. The money recieved by the water companies is, to a degree, guaranteed. Now, once everyone goes onto a meter and their water consumption falls, as it undoubtedly will, would the water companies accept a cut in their income? I think not, the price would increase to compensate for their loss in earnings with less water being consumed. Without strict regulation and a fair price for water set at governmental level we would be at these profit driven organisation's mercy!
mick wilding, chelmsford

Most of the water is used, and polluted, by huge agribusiness companies that get the lion's share of the imported water. Home conservation on a small scale will help, but it is literally a drop in the bucket as long as wasteful agricultural subsidies remain. I don't see this changing any time soon, but at least we CAN stop buying bottled water, which wastes oil and water and is no improvement on tap water in Western countries.
Nancy, New York, USA

About ten years ago, a study found that Thames water pumped 3000 million litres of water a day through its system, one third of which was lost through leaks. While I'm sure it has improved somewhat since then, I wouldn't be remotely surprised to hear they still waste 700 million+ litres a day. Consumers need to change their attitude to water usage, but the companies need to make changes too!
Baz, Luton, UK

I live in a council house and although I'd like to combine a dedicated grey water system with rainwater collection the council who own my home are not willing to help with the cost - I cant afford to do it myself. My home is only 10 years old this year & I don't understand why it has no solar panels or integrated wiring system to cut out power to electrical items not in use. surely it's not because as a council tenant it assumed I don't understand or care about the environment? and surely it's not because the council could not be bothered? Obviously we need to be charged for the amount of water we use/waste/reuse/number of people in a property/how ecological the property is/ and yes the water companies need to fix pipes. obviously we need better drainage and flood defences and obviously there needs to be a planned subsidised (at least) roll out to make every home in the UK as environmentally friendly as possible within the next 5/10 years. The problem is getting someone to make the decision and start the process(ess).
anita edmunds, orpington kent

Dave from Chatham UK has hit the nail on the head: politicians won't face up to the fact that current population growth is unsustainable. We need to tackle this issue, not cement over vast areas of land to house people for whom there will be an insufficient supply of resources.
Jane, Oxford

Water meters /may/ result in people being more careful, then again they may not. After all everybody has electricity meters, but most people waste electricity too. They pay by Direct Debit and haven't a clue how much they actually use. I'd be happy to put my water on a meter for the public good. But not for greedy fat-cats: bill the divis/bonuses for the lost water first.
Candy Spillard, York, UK

I do believe the publics attitude to water consumption needs to change but before the water companies have a lot of work to do before they can justify charging more money. Nearly half of all the water supplied in this contry is lost through leaks in the pipes, they need to fix these first.
Andrew Tuxford, Nottingham

yes interesting to know "Chemical engineers" are working on ways to supply fresh water to flooded areas. But I disagree with the rest of this article. is he wanting water rationing as we are already on the way to energy rationing!!!
Matt, Plymouth

I'm sorry but in Wales we have more water than we know what to do with, to say we need to conserve it is utter nonsense. Dry areas can install water meters, for most of the north and west of the UK there is absolutely no need.
Lyndon Rosser, Cardiff

i think people should stop wasting water
lizzie, rockhampton queensland

It is evident that usable water is running out and we are lacking a solution. We have too many fires to turn of now, that we have blinded ourselves to future catotosphric events such as this water issue. Nevertheless hope is the last virtue to loose and our generation (young adults) are concious of these issues and will have to redeem quikly our ancestors mistakes. Saludos, RT3 Así Es
RT3, Monterrey Mexico

Water is free! It comes out of the sky. Making it fit for human consumption and distributing it costs money. Unfortunately, water bills from private companies also charge us for paying dividends to shareholders and bonuses to directors. Every person should be given a healthy quota of water for free and should only pay for water consumed above that quota. To be totally fair, consuming below the quota level should result in the customer being paid for the unconsumed water. We all know that water companies talk about water as a precious resource as a ploy not to have to invest any more in the infrastructure than they can get away with. Fix and the leaks and there is no problem. Put in a national water grid and we are bomb proof.
Colin, Lincoln, UK

Sometimes we forget to see sanitation as part of water usage, contamination, treatment, reuse and refuse pattern. In many case high water charges are due to the cost involved in treating the waste water than the treatment of raw water to attain drinking water standards(in developed countries). In developing countries, sanitation campaign is fast growing to meet the GWSI (Global water and sanitation initiative). Here we are not worried about the concept of water security but just focused on achieving the GWSI. Sanitation link to preserve and conserve water for various use should be something we should be working on rather than researching on technologies that could protect us from the invasive germs in water. It is easy to clean everyting with water, but difficult to clean the water from everything.
Kannan Pasupathiraj, Colombo

I don't agree with this at all, water companies charge for both the delivery and removal of water, they estimate that they will remove around 95% of all water delivered and charge accordingly, this is why they charge differently for those with swimming pools as that water is not removed. In view of the fact that we as consumers only remove 5% of the water delivered, and simply dirty the rest ( even when we drink it they still get it back at some point), and that the water companies lose a third of the water they deliver and also remove, then the priorities are completely wrong and they should invest more to fix their leaking pipes! Water is a free resource for the water companies, they do not have to buy it in from a producer, it falls from the sky. As such they have only to collect it, deliver it and clean it, the simple answer for the UK is collect more and stop selling off resevoirs when we have an increasing population and make delivery and cleaning more efficient. The individual consumer is not the problem here at all.
Andrew, london

We need to have a higher price of water, so that one cubic metre isn't 3 cents. It is amazing how cheap water is. We need to have a high set price, but to make it fair, work water prices by tax brackets so that financially challenged families do not end up paying as much for water as wealthy ones. We should also have high prices for industries, as they are one of the most active consumers.
Michael Schmatz, Northville, Michigan, USA

Of course its important to save water. Whether its food, electricity or water, western culture is one of waste and excess. But.. Why not talk about the water that is wasted by the water companies? Thousands of liters a day! Should we expect to pay for the water companies lack of investment over the past 20 - 30 years?
Javier, Shropshire

Of course water should be conserved as it costs money to purify, but charging more is pure profiteering. In many areas 40 to 70% of the water supplied is lost through leakage in the water companies' own systems. They should put this right before even thinking about charging us more and fattening their already large profits. Why should we subsidise inefficient private companies? What about building a National Grid for water and opening up the market to more suppliers so that we get proper competition?
Andrew Finch, Swindon, UK

Conserving water will stop flooding? What a bizarre idea. Building proper flood defences and uprating drainage specifications on all new builds won't stop flooding...but it might make it less bad. How do we pay for that? Well either taxes go up generally or it goes on water costs. I'm entirely happy for it to go on water: because I own a hugely water efficient property. I'll bet most families feel differently, though.
Don Hughes, Basingstoke, UK

People in UK should realise that they live in one of the very few places in the "civilised world" where water consumption is not metered. It is considered a quasi-barbarian and for sure populistic practice. Water has to be paid for consumption, as food and petrol. Of course price should vary, from a very low price for some minimum per-capita consumption, to very high for excessive use. Delivering clean water to your tap is a very costly service, remember that otherwise you should go to the river and come back with a bucket of that water or dig a hole in your garden to pump it out... and anyway that has to regulated as well. No less, utilities have to invest more in leak reduction, but that in another side of the problem, like promoting rainwater harvesting etc.
Lorenzo, Belgium

anyone that can lift a bucket can do a gray water system, just put a bucket under your bathroom sink, and use that water for flushing your toilet, it's very easy, like other gray water systems. CONTRACTORS, i.e. plumbers... electricians too, need to do their research! and help the general public get up to speed with conservation practices so that we can solve problems.
Somerset Waters, Los Angeles

Metered water, like metered electricity, will cause people to think before using, especially when they get the bill at the end of the month. When you, as a household, use more water, aside from what goes in the garden, you are also sending more waste, to be treated, down the drain. Should a household of two people pay the same rate as a household of 6 or 8 ?
Lee J., Vancouver, Canada

If water is being supplied by private companies for profit, then raising prices will be seen as unfair. If water is supplied at cost on a nonprofit basis, people will realize that they are only hurting themselves if they waste it. And they will demand that such things as leaky water mains be fixed.
Richard Vineski, Wappingers Falls, New York USA

Use More - Pay More. (So Reduce What You Take) Consume Less - Pay Less. (Re-use and Re-purpose so You Save) Contribute More - Pay Less. (Recycle/Re-Value/Re-Create or Collect and Give Back) For "You" read "Us". And it's not just about Water. It's Our choice, and it's that simple, so get used to it.
DRothwell, Berkshire

It should be simple to fit most buildings, especially new ones, with rainwater tanks for toilet-flushing, garden etc. That would ease the burden on reservoirs and reduce flooding as drains wouldn't have to cope with all the rainfall at once. Unfortunately we as a nation are too lazy and thoughtless to have done this. Meter the stuff and perhaps we'd make the effort.
Nik, Exeter, Devon

As in all these green exercises that are generally highly commendable we do as usual over look the most important issue that no government or any politician is able to face or voice any opinion on in any part of the world let alone just the UK. Namely that we are the predominant species on the planet with no real predators and we breed to excess. Despite the earth being covered in a large quantity of water we are largely powerless to make use of it because of the costs of desalinating it. What we have to drink is limited by the weather patterns of our planet; the very weather patterns we are disrupting by our polution.
Dave, Chatham Uk

Let's get this right, conserving water will stop floods? Nup, not a hope. All it will do is reduce problems in time of drought, and that is mostly linked to increasing population in the South East of England and a failure to invest in the infrastructure by the privatised water companies. So, is saving water in the UK going to do anything for the billions without access to good water supplies? Again no. The problem with water is that it's needed in such quantities that it's impractical to ship or pipe over anything but short distances (on a geographic scale). So will water metering do anything useful? Well, it will cut the need for the water companies to invest. The down side is that it will hit those people who can afford it least hardest (think families with babies/young children).
Steve T, London

Since moving to from London to France and having to pay for water according to metered use, it immediately changes one's attitude to water useage. Becauase I have a well on my property, like many rural French households, I invested in a pump and some hose so that I can water the garden for free. In a warm climate one could spend a lot of money on umpteen thousand litres of metered water for watering plants and vegetables. I consider myself fortunate in living in a a society where potable water is freely available and I don't see any harm in using the market mechanism of unit pricing to ensure that this valuable resource is used sensibly.
Richard, Montpon, France

where I live there is now a 25% subsidy on equipment and installations for saving rain water. I heard about this yesterday 12 aug. I have been saving rainwater here for 15 years by directing the roof gutters into wine vats. Each vat holds 165 hecalitres. This water is used to fill ponds and water the garden.When village water is cut off (in summer occasionally) I boil the rain water and use it for drinking and cooking.A lot of people here are installing reed bed drainage systems in country properties. The water in the pond at the end of a reed bed system is reusable in principle
joanna, france

There should be no compulsion over water meters, there is too much compulsion in this country already. Privatising water was a huge mistake; water should be provided on a non-profit making basis.
Mike Parkes, Kettering, Northants

Of course we have to change our views but to do so in isolation is just rediculous. Water leakage remains a huge cause of "consumption" so until water companies invest to get within say 2% for loss through leakage/infrastructure failures then there is no incentive for consumers to change. Consumer assistance in reducing waste in fact could be considered counter-productive - the more they save the slower the water companies will invest/mend leaking mains.
ian thomson, twickenham

If every Water Company was fined at the same rate for leaks as I pay for metered water then I suspect we'd make immediate progress. Until then, the consumer will always subsidise the industry.
Nick Knoll, Hampshire Uk

I am all in favour for charging for water usage but only after these money grabing, incompetent water companies improve their services to us 100%. We should not be expected to continuously pay more for poor service (a british disease it seems)
Dave Capener, Liverpool

yes I do agree, if we do nothing there will be big trouble in year to come, we also need to find a way to remove the number of chemicals we have add to the water over the years, by pouring stuff down the drain's which we can not remove with current treatment systems
robert evans, London

The wastsge of water through leaks is a disgrace. If the water companies fixed all the leaks there would not be a shortage. They blame the public for wasting water when they are to blame also. They have massive profits by over charging the public and not fixing leaks by having fewer employees.
neil brown, newtonhill

All new builds and refurbishments should, by law, have grey-water recycling systems incorporated and low volume flush toilets. Just using the grey-water to flush toilets with will result in a massive saving.
PaulC, Gloucester UK

I think charging for water is met with outrage mostly because inevitably there will be people who have to pay more than under a flat rate. We assume, from past experience, that very few people will pay less. Usually people are forced to use meters. However, I think a lot of the anger is caused by fuzzy thinking, possibly coloured by similar changes in the past, like the poll tax. When we think of who will have to pay more, we think of larger families who can least afford an increase and we are filled with a righteous indignation. When we think of those who will save money we think of people who are probably well-off anyway, and will hardly notice the change. Again we are filled with righteous indignation. While both these stereotypes will exist, they hardly show the full picture of the changes. I think the way to promote water metering is make switching voluntary. Pricing is the key. If metered water is accurately priced, and flat rate water is priced based on the the average usage of NON-METERED users, it should all just work. Low usage households will want to switch to meters immediately. As they do so, the average usage of the remainder increases. If the flat rate goes up accordingly, as it should, another batch of households will find it advantageous to switch to meters. This should continue until only the most stubborn and wasteful are left with extremely high flat rate water bills.
al, Stirling

We need water charges NOW set at a rate so that the average household pays the same as now, small and careful ones less, and large and profligate ones more. Every home to be metered: no choice, no ifs, no buts. Of course it will hurt large families - but you pay more for food if you have a large family, why not for water?
Andrew, London

I would be happy to pay for the water we use in our household on a meter, provided this is managed well. It should, as David Brown says, be an exercise in 'educating the public to be more sensible and economical with their water usage', not an excuse for the water companies to make more money out of their consumers. I would also suggest that these companies provide an incentive for the purchase of water butts for the purpose of watering gardens and flowers.
Stumpy, Reading, UK

Water companies already make massive profits. No one wants to encourage people to waste a resource but in suggesting price hikes this article is utterly retrograde in approach. Many of us would love to be able to save recycle and reuse our own water resources but current planning restrictions limit what we can do. So instead of handing the already rich water companies another blank cheque by advocating them raising their prices I think the author should have paid FAR more attention to the positive changes that need to be made to allow the reuse & recycle parts of the equation. Because for every gallon reused that is a gallon reduced!
Jenny Day, Saltash Cornwall

Water is important to conserve. I keep the plug in my bathtub and use the shower water to flush my tiolet. Gray water system on the cheap!
kat Russell, Grand Rapids MI USA

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