Charge users for water efficiency

To combat wastefulness and increase efficiency, basic water usage should be charged at low cost with an escalating tariff, says CIWEM in its latest policy statement on water use efficiency, which calls all users to action.

Total abstractions in England and Wales are currently static or declining, but this trend is threatened by changes in climate, lifestyle, population growth and housing development. In a new policy statement on water use efficiency, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) has set out key measures needed to ensure the trend is not reversed.

“Water efficiency gains can be made in both industry and domestic settings. These measures, from charging everyone for water through to an integrated communications strategy, are desperately needed as demand for water is predicted to rise,” says Alastair Chisholm, CIWEM Policy Manager.

“Greater water use efficiency means less water has to be abstracted, treated, pumped and re-treated as wastewater. Thus, water efficiency by itself helps to reduce carbon emissions; and with less water going further, helps to meet climate change adaptation and mitigation goals; as well as placing less pressure on the aquatic environment.”

CIWEM believes that in the long term, all household customers should be metered where practical, particularly in water stressed areas. The number of households on a meter is now 1 in 3 overall, but this varies considerably according to use. Basic usage should be charged at a low cost with the unit cost escalating rapidly thereafter, allowing affordable use whilst ensuring wasteful users pay for the environmental costs derived from their usage.

The economic regulator, Ofwat, should have a statutory duty to promote water conservation and efficiency through ensuring water undertakers are funded to fulfil their duty to promote the efficient use of water by their customers. Should anticipated savings fail to accrue despite vigorous efforts on the part of water companies and others, those companies who have tried should not be penalised for failing, but recognised for making the effort.

Change will only be achieved by adopting an integrated approach to water use efficiency, involving a multitude of stakeholders over a long period of time. Action on a complete range of possible efficiency measures, from metering, use of water efficient appliances, re-use and recycling, to improved public education, are required together with research to develop a sound understanding of their relative costs and benefits.

Responsible water management calls for changes in attitude and behaviour by all parties to the water cycle. A national communication strategy is needed to forge an integrated approach and consistent messages to consumers, providing ‘one voice’ from Government, regulators, companies, professions, manufacturers and water users.