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Delays on water metering threaten UK rivers

12 August 2010

Water meters offer a key part of the solution to Britain’s water crisis yet figures from the water regulator Ofwat show there continues to be a worryingly low take up around the country with just over a third of households benefiting from being on a water meter. Following a summer of dry weather and water shortages, WWF-UK is calling on the new Government and water companies to take action now to ensure universal water metering is in place by 2020.

Current legislation allows water companies, with government approval, to install compulsory water meters for customers who live in ‘water scarce’ areas, largely in the south and east of England. Yet this opportunity is being sidelined around the UK with some companies metering barely a fifth of homes (1) despite warnings of severe water shortages.

Rose Timlett, Freshwater Policy Officer at WWF-UK says:
“Not only is the current water charging system unfair and outdated, it is also piling huge pressure on our rivers and their wildlife. One third of our river catchments are facing damage because we are simply taking too much water out of them, a problem that is set to get worse with climate change and a rising population. With the current water shortages across the country, water companies and the Government should be doing all they can to help more households install a water meter.”

Last year, the government published a review into metering and charging (the Walker Review) which recommended that England and Wales should move to 80 per cent metering by 2020, acknowledging this as the fairest way for customers to pay for water. Yet progress on these targets has been limited, with only 37 per cent of households in the UK currently metered. The latest company 5 year plans show that this number is planned to rise to 50 per cent by 2015 – still only half of what is required.

Rose Timlett says:
“The UK remains one of the only European countries where the majority of households do not pay for water on the basis of what they use. We pay for most things by what we use, as it seems the fairest way, so it is ludicrous that most households have no idea how much water they are using and how much water – and money- they could potentially be saving. Universal metering will lead to better awareness and understanding of water use by the householder, but also better understanding of water demand by the water companies and more innovative demand reduction schemes.”

WWF is working with water companies to support their metering projects. In addition WWF is working with the water industry, the Government, and its regulators, as part of its Rivers on the Edge project to restore water flows to English rivers by reducing demand for water. One such scheme, Save Water Swindon is challenging Swindon’s residents to reduce their water use by 20 litres per person per day. However, there is a need for a nationwide approach to ensure that we stop using water wastefully and protect the future security of our water supplies.

Rose Timlett adds:
“The new government has committed to examining the Walker recommendations and reforming the water industry. WWF looks forward to working with the Government to ensure the new Water White Paper includes a requirement for every home to have a water meter by 2020.”

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Editor's notes

Figures on water metering:

% of household metered

Water and sewerage companies            2009/10      by 2014-15
Anglian                                                            63                 81
Dŵr Cymru                                                     29                 41
Northumbrian                                                21                 43
Severn Trent                                                  31                 42
South West                                                    64                 79
Southern                                                        38                 92
Thames                                                         26                 37
United Utilities                                             26                  38
Wessex                                                         44                  58
Yorkshire                                                      35                  48

Water only companies
Bournemouth & W Hampshire                53                  66
Bristol                                                           31                  46
Cambridge                                                  61                  70
Dee Valley                                                   46                   58
Portsmouth                                                 12                   24
South East                                                   40                  68
South Staffs                                                 22                  35
Sutton & East Surrey                                  30                  47
Veolia Central                                              36                  44
Veolia East                                                   45                  71
Veolia Southeast                                         45                  90
Industry total                                                 37                  50
Source: Ofwat, 2009.

WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. For further information visit www.wwf.org.uk

For further information, please contact:
Debbie Chapman, Senior Press Officer, WWF-UK, tel: 07900 670282, email: dchapman@wwf.org.uk

A English river at sunset

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