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Water Week Monday, 23 March, 1998, 09:44 GMT
The water companies under pressure
Domestic water consumption has doubled in the last three decades and predictions estimate that demand will continue to increase at the rate of one percent per year.

This increase in demand combined with problematic levels of rainfall in the UK over the past 10 years and the years of drought in the 80s and 90s have made the job of supplying water increasingly challenging for the water companies.

pipes
Millions of litres of water are lost every day through leaky pipes
They are under pressure from the government and the water industry watchdog, Ofwat, to provide good service and value for money. This means getting water to the customer when they want it and at a reasonable price.

But some consumers are unhappy because the average cost of a bill has increased by 44% since the water companies were privatised in 1989.

The companies must also reduce the 4.5 million litres of water lost every day in England and Wales through leaky pipes. They are all investing in repairing their ageing networks of mains pipes in an effort to reach the leakage reduction targets set by Ofwat, the industry's regulator.

Gordon Simmons of the Water Services Association, which represents most of the big water and sewerage companies in England and Wales, said that protecting against drought is "fundamental" to the water industry and that companies plan years ahead and pay close attention to scientific climate studies.

Water companies were privatised in 1989
Water companies were privatised in 1989
Some companies are expanding their storage facilities to capture more rain when it falls in a very short space of time in the winter. This involves expanding or building new reservoirs. Other companies are taking more water from lakes and rivers.

Environmental pressure groups like Friends of the Earth are concerned that new reservoirs and increased water abstraction could badly affect the countryside.

Some are also working on ways of transferring water from areas where supply is plentiful to drier regions. All the companies have agreed to encourage consumers to use water more efficiently in the future.

Two consultation papers on the water industry from the Department of the Environment are due to be released soon. The first will focus on water resources and the second on the the options available to the water companies for charging their customers.

kettle
More households may have water meters in the future
One of the options available is increasing the number of water meters, especially for high volume domestic users such as people with swimming pools.

But ministers have said they are against forcing customers to have water meters if they do not want them. The government has said it wants water companies to work with their customers and take their views into account.

If metering is more widely adopted, Britain would be following the lead of many other European countries whose citizens pay for water by volume rather than through a rates system.

See also:

20 Mar 98 | Water Week
20 Mar 98 | Water Week
20 Mar 98 | Water Week
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