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Drought summit stops short of recommending dramatic measures to save water

Water metering must be introduced across the UK if the spectre of annual droughts is to be avoided, the ICE has warned.

The warning came as the south east officially joined the Anglia region as being in drought. Anglia has been in a state of drought since June (NCE 16 June 2011). At the same time, environment secretary Caroline Spelman hosted a major summit with water companies to find ways of reducing water wastage and use.

Spelman’s summit concluded that water users must take more responsibility for cutting water use. But the ICE said that this will only happen if demand management measures are imposed.

“If we are to avoid the spectre of drought becoming an annual event we must urgently change our approach to water management, taking a more strategic overview and focusing on preventative measures for addressing scarcity before it gets to drought stage, said ICE water panel chairman Michael Norton.

“Introducing demand management measures, improving interconnectivity between water companies and better and more imaginative methods of storing winter water would be a good start to safeguarding this precious resource for the future,” he said.

The ICE’s 2010 State of the Nation: Infrastructure report urged ministers to cut demand for drinking water by changing the pricing structure, reducing leaks and using low-flow fixtures, supported by water metering.

Spelman stopped short of recommending such an approach. “It is not just the responsibility of government, water companies and businesses to act against drought,”Spelman said after the summit. “We are asking for the help of everyone by urging them to use less water and to start now.”

At the summit water companies agreed to try and to reduce water losses, increase leak detection and encourage customers to use water “wisely”.

Readers' comments (8)

  • I was intrigued by the opposition to water metering. It is a consumable like electricity and gas which requires collection, processing and distribution. I spent £100 having a meter fitted which halved my bill to £100/annum. OK I live alone but the bill is part standing charge and part measured and my consumption is c£50 worth. So it is a no brainer for those living in a house with up to 3 people and after careful analysis more. This places the incentive to save water on the consumer. It is easy to get feedback from the meter, a glass of water is readable.

    In fact before moving here I lived in a household of six and compared notes with someone with similar sized family but on the meter. His bill was noticeably less than mine.


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  • Just because the south-east of England is running out of water as a result of poor planning does not require the north of England, Wales and Scotland to adopt metering.

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  • Alan Sim

    We don't need drastic measures. As a nation we are still flushing our waste (WCs) with treated water of drinking water quality. This does not have to be the case.
    I think Caroline Spelman has missed an oppotunity here to combine both the future security of water supply with the future demand for housing development. All the Government has to do is insist that ALL new-build properties incorporate 'grey' water capture from all hard surfaces and use this wasted resource to flush our toilets. I can't understand why Local Goverments in those areas most affected have not amended their Planning Guidelines already in this regard, but expect the end users to act.

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  • Robert Moir is quite right. There is no need for installation of expensive metering in those areas of the UK unaffected by drought. In any case the definitive paper on water metering by ..?.. (I have forgotten the name but he was a partner in Babties) related to experience in Fiji which showed that metering merely postponed a continued rise in consumption.

    I think that it is high time that someone in the ICE told the Westminster government to dust off the former Water Resourses Board's (WRB's) reports proposing a cascade of interconnections between catchments from North to South. As part of the Kielder scheme the Tyne and the Tees are already connected in this way. It was intended that similar cascades continue southwards as required. The benefit is that transfer between catchments is required only when abstraction cannot be sustained by the appropriate catchment.

    WRB also had a proposal to connect the headwaters of the Severn and the Thames.

    Of course the real answer is to transfer industry and population northwards . No doubt this will happen eventually when the importance of water resourses is finally grasped.

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  • InsideOut

    Robert is not right. Think of electricty use - surely if it were not metered we would all be paying considerably higher tariffs?

    Metering all residences would enable utilities to apply structured differential tariffs that will provide the majority with necessary water supply at a reasonable cost, but make unnecessary (and environmentally unfriendly) over-consumption a lot more expensive than the use of current un-metered tarrifs.

    We need to curb wasteful use of commodities - even if they are not a scarce resoure - simply because it is wasteful and requires unnecessary investment.

    There is no excuse for a wealthy 1st world country to continue with such a profligate and unsustainable practice.

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  • Barry Walton

    It is a pity that we seem no longer to be able to see easily the numbers so that opinions are based on information. How can meters solve the water shortage problem when Anglian's measured per capita use (135 l/h/d) (they with the acute water shortage problem and, at last count, most extensive metering) are higher than Severn Trent Water's unmeasured usage (133 l/h/d)?

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  • Unless the water needs to be pumped, the major costs are in the capital investment for collection, treatment works and distribution; actual treatment is relatively cheap. To recover these costs the charge is essentially for the potential to supply a property, not the volume actually used. If the consumption fell by 50% the actual costs to the authority would not fall in the same ratio and all that would happen is that the charge/unit rose, which the public would not like.
    Private companies proved themselves to be incapable of planning ahead in the 19th century which is why all the major cities developed their municipal systems. the same thing applies today. The need to develop major transfer systems to supply southern England has been obvious for decades but no-one seems to be able to grasp the nettle.

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  • Is this the same Michael Norton who, in the article 1 March regarding using HS2 as a corridor for water transfer, ridiculed the idea? I think the HS2 idea was spot on except that there is a need to cherry pick the sections providing the best cost/ benefit ratio.

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