New water saving measures to safeguard supplies

Plans to help households across England use water more efficiently, part of an ambitious agenda to build back greener from the pandemic, have been announced by the Environment Secretary.

The proposals – announced in response to a public consultation on personal water usage – will balance the growing demand on national supplies with the ambitions in the our 25 Year Environment Plan to achieve clean and plentiful water. They are also key to the Government’s 2050 net zero target by reducing energy consumption in homes as heating water accounts for approximately 17% of an average household’s energy use.

As water supplies come under increasing pressure from climate change and population growth, these new commitments will also protect supplies for the future.

The proposals include:

  • Introducing mandatory water efficiency labels for products such as dishwashers and showers will help people to make informed choices about how they can save water without having to make significant changes to their daily lives. This would be similar to the traffic light energy efficiency labels that already exist;
  • Asking water companies to develop a consistent approach on fixing customer supply pipe leakage. Over the last 10 years around 25% of total leakage has been from customer supply pipes;
  • Encouraging local authorities to adopt a tighter standard of 110 litres per person per day, compared with the current standard of 125 litres, for new homes where appropriate, requiring developers to install more efficient fixtures and fittings;
  • Developing a roadmap towards greater water efficiency in new developments and through retrofits – including options such as rainwater harvesting; water re-use and storage options.

These measures, along with the work from water companies to reduce leakage by 50%, will help meet the ambitions set out in the National Framework for Water Resources to reduce average personal water consumption to 110 litres per person per day by 2050.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

We often take our supply of clean and plentiful water for granted. We must all work harder to tackle the pressures on our water resources by understanding and challenging ourselves on how much water we need to use in our daily lives.

While I have been clear that water companies must up their game and take urgent action in reducing leakage, this new package of measures will help us all to use less water.

We’re known for our wet weather in this country, but there’s much to do to ensure we have a resilient water supply now and for future generations.

Following advice from the Environment Agency, the Secretary of State has also agreed to designate seven additional water company areas as being in serious water stress.

Severn Trent Water, South Staffordshire Water, Wessex Water, Portsmouth Water, Cambridge Water, the Bournemouth area of South West Water, and the Isles of Scilly must now publish a water resources management plan (WRMP) that considers all options to manage demand more effectively – including metering and greater leakage reduction.

The Government will make no changes to existing rules around when people can be charged for their water use through water meters. Water companies in these areas may only implement wider water metering programmes where there is customer support and it is cost effective to do so. These programmes must be justified by water companies and achieve customer support, striking the right balance between the need to protect water supplies and importance of water companies reducing leakage before expanding the use of water meters. This protects unmetered family homes from unexpected large increases in bills.

Each company’s water resources management plan will be subject to public consultation in 2022 before the Environment Secretary decides whether a company should be allowed to publish and implement its final plan.

Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd said:

Fresh water is the world’s most precious commodity and everyone needs to wake up to the fact that there is less of it to go around. If we continue to operate as usual, by 2050 the amount of water available in England could be reduced by 10 to 15 percent, some rivers could have between 50 and 80 percent less water during the summer and we will not be able to meet the demands of people, industry and agriculture.

Parts of England are over-abstracted and we are already making hard choices. The designation of seven additional water company areas as being in serious water stress alongside the other proposals announced today are important steps to securing long-term resilient water supplies.

This work will support the measures set out in the Environment Bill to further help us secure long-term, resilient water and wastewater services, making sure that we have a cleaner, greener and more resilient country for the next generation.

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