UK considers options for conserving water

Drought years focus attention on tools to restrain demand, increase efficiency of use

A consultation exercise by the English and Welsh Environment Agency has tested support for a wide range of water conservation measures. Parts of England have experienced severe water shortages in recent years, with aquifers and reservoirs reaching record lows.

In a new report, the agency draws together responses from water companies, industry, local and national government, conservation and consumer groups and members of the public made since 1995. The year brought a one-in-300-year drought for the UK water industry and one company - Yorkshire Water - almost ran out of supplies.

An agency spokeswoman said: "The document sets out our current policy and future options on water conservation and demand management. The agency has been particularly instrumental in exploring demand management options - through which water companies will be able to meet the needs of their customers with minimal impact on the environment."

The agency has been telling companies that demand management rather than building new reservoirs should be the first priority in meeting the increasing domestic demand for water. It wants companies to promote more water efficient WCs and washing machines, and force customers with swimming pools or who use garden sprinklers to pay for their water by meter.

Only about 8% of UK households pay for water by meter. During the consultation period, more widespread metering was supported by environmentalists, but some local authorities and water companies were opposed. By contrast, most groups favoured tougher measures to cut leakage from water mains and grey-water recycling - the re-use of water from showers and basins for in WCs or washing machines.

The Agency has promoted the idea of a committee to coordinate and monitor water conservation measures. Although widely supported by water companies, environmentalists and consumer groups, the environment ministry was opposed to the plan. This policy is now up for review following the election of a Labour government in May this year.

Follow Up:
Environment Agency of England and Wales tel: +44 1903 832 073.

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