A very high proportion of water leakage is between the water main and the first point at which it can be used in someone's home. Leaving customers to sort out this problem is not acceptable in the 21st century, as only water company specialists and their contractors have the equipment and expertise to detect most underground leakage and repair it efficiently.
Changing this wasteful practice was near the top of the agenda in the years just prior to privatisation, and an incoming Labour government majored on the issue in 1997. As a result, many companies agreed to repair these pipes free of charge and leakage began to fall.
However, political pressure moved elsewhere, the regulators got sleepy, and the old ways prevail.
The problem is compounded by putting water meters in the street. What would you think if the gas and electricity meters were moved out into the street as well?
Water companies must to be made directly responsible for leakage from the whole pipe. And all new houses must be connected inside the house with a pipe for which the water company must become fully responsible.
The water meter, if one is needed, could then be fitted conveniently inside the house, so customers could actually read it.
John Thackray (F), water policy consultant, 4 Elm Avenue, Christchurch BH23 2HJ