Bloomberg News

U.K. May Make Water Metering Compulsory After Drought

February 07, 2008

The U.K. may make water metering compulsory in parts of southern and eastern England where a drought from 2004 to 2006 led to restrictions, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said.

Britons need to use water more wisely and manage rivers and buildings more effectively to prevent shortages and flooding, Benn said today at a news conference in London. He outlined a water strategy for England that also includes measures to curb pollution from detergents and encourage use of permeable building materials to help prevent a repeat of last year's floods, which caused 3 billion pounds ($6 billion) of damage.

An independent review will be carried out to determine where metering may be required, and how people with larger families and those on lower incomes will be affected, Benn said. About 30 percent of U.K. households have a water meter, which typically cuts usage by 10 percent, according to the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or Defra.

``In areas of water stress -- the southeast -- we're going to need to move to near universal metering before 2030,'' Benn said in an interview after the conference. ``We've got to find a fair and equitable basis for doing that on the question of charging.'' He didn't give a timeline for the review.

Water usage is 150 liters (40 gallons) per person per day in the U.K. The government has set a target of reducing that to 130 liters per person per day. Consumers without meters pay a fixed sum for their supply and have no financial incentive to use water efficiently, the Committee of Public Accounts said in May.

Climate Benefit

``We lead more water-intensive lifestyles now, with power showers, jet washers, a lot of appliances,'' Benn said. ``There are steps we can take: having dual flush toilets, changing the type of taps and appliances we use, having a water butt in the garden'' to collect rainwater.

Eight utilities imposed water restrictions in 2006 after two winters of below-average rainfall depleted water reserves in southern England. The government issued drought orders for three water companies in May 2006, enabling them to impose even tighter restrictions, and Folkestone and Dover Water Services Ltd. in southeast England was granted ``water scarcity'' status, enabling it to impose water meters on customers.

Cutting water use will also help to lower the U.K.'s emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas blamed for climate change, the environment secretary said. Domestic water use in England produces about 35 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, according to Defra.

`Every Pint'

``Every pint of water that's produced and then pumped and used and disposed of in the sewage system results in emissions, and that's another argument to bring usage down,'' Benn said.

The government is also consulting with washing detergent manufacturers over a possible ban on phosphates, which help remove grease from dishes and make clothing whiter in the wash.

``Because alternatives are available in relation to washing powders, there's no reason why we shouldn't'' ban phosphates, Benn said. ``We'll get on with that as quickly as we can. The consultation will look at whether we can do it by a voluntary agreement or whether we need to use regulation.''

The government may also change planning rules so homeowners who want to use non-permeable paving in their front yards will require permission, as part of efforts to cut surface flooding. Last year's floods in northern and central England were caused by a combination of surface runoff, rivers breaching their banks, and saturated water tables.

``In the future, if you want to pave over, but use permeable paving or gravel, so the water drains down, you carry on taking that decision for yourself, but if you're going to pave in a way that the water runs off into the surface water drainage system, you'll have to apply for planning permission,'' Benn said. ``That will encourage us all to think about what type of paving we put down.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kristen Hallam in London at

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