Statement on Water Meeting
Representatives from across the water industry, including water companies, the industry body Water UK, Ofwat, the Environment Agency, and the Consumer Council for Water, met Environment Secretary David Miliband and Environment Minister Ian Pearson today at Defra.
Mr Milband and Mr Pearson said: "This was a good, timely and productive first meeting which examined the water supply challenges we all face in the short, medium and long term, and the collective responsibility for meeting them. "There was widespread support for the Environment Agency's current assessment that drought prospects are worse than for 30 years in the South East. The Agency, in cooperation with the Consumer Council for Water and Ofwat, will work with the water companies on their contingency planning against the prospect of a third dry winter.
"The attendees at the meeting agreed that water companies should redouble their efforts to ensure that consumers have the information and the support they need to understand what they can do themselves to reduce unnecessary consumption of water without compromising quality of life, and what conservation efforts were being made by the water companies.
"Drought order powers should be used sensitively and progressively. The effects of drought orders are going to be monitored and reported to Defra to provide additional assurance that they are delivering the necessary results in a proportionate way. The water companies confirmed that the powers they have are appropriate for delivering any drought plan measures which might prove necessary.
"Leakage reduction is vital across the system and good practice is evident. Leakage targets are set by the Economic Regulator and will be kept under review, taking account of costs, technology and best practice.
"The meeting endorsed the work of the Water Saving Group. Water metering currently stands at 28% of households and we will look at the scope for increasing that in areas of water stress.
"There was agreement that water companies' 25 year resource plans - which are to become mandatory under the Water Act 2003 and which will be subject to public scrutiny and consultation - must reflect the best available information on the consequences of climate change and factor this into the plans on an ongoing basis.
"Government will review the scope of the current legislative framework relating to the scope of hosepipe bans.
"Water companies were encouraged to feed their views into the public consultation exercise planned for the summer to look at new proposals to drive up water efficiency in new and existing homes.
"We also debated the idea of a national 'water grid', along the lines of other utilities. The proposal was rejected by all representatives, including the Consumer Council for Water and the Environment Agency, on the grounds of its disproportionate and unjustifiable cost, both for the environment and for water bills, compared with the benefits such a grid could deliver.
"Today's meeting marked the opening of a constructive dialogue with the water industry which we expect to continue. The simple fact is that water is a resource we can no longer take for granted without consequences for ourselves and for the environment, and collective action by both industry and consumers is essential to protect the sustainability of supply in the long term.
"Consumer confidence and environmental sustainability are critical to the water industry and we will work to ensure that these remain central to the debate.
"We will be meeting again towards the end of the year to review progress, as well as keeping the short term drought issues in the south east under careful review."