Environment Secretary David Miliband and Environment Minister Ian Pearson yesterday met representatives from across the water industry, including water companies, the industry body Water UK, Ofwat, the Environment Agency, and the Consumer Council for Water, to discuss the short and long term challenges for the sustainable management of the water supply in England.
The meeting was one in an ongoing series, and included an update on progress made since the last meeting, held in June.
Ministers confirmed plans for an updated national water strategy, addressing the issues of water supply, quality and ecology, resilience to climate change, and the carbon footprint of the water industry. They stressed the importance of water companies having clarity on what they are expected to achieve, and the need for public and consumer confidence that all partners are taking their share of responsibility for delivering results.
The Environment Agency presented a report on drought prospects for 2007 and there was general agreement that there was no room for complacency about the potential risk of drought next year. After two dry winters recent rainfall has helped considerably, but the coming months will be critical as aquifers recharge. Contingency planning continues in case there is below average rainfall again this winter. Water companies were urged to take timely action and not to risk a wait-and-see approach. The Environment Agency acknowledged the excellent response of the public and water companies in achieving a reduction in demand of up to 15% over the summer, but emphasised that the impacts for the environment had been more severe than those for consumers.
Ofwat stressed the importance of all water companies hitting their current leakage targets and reported progress on work to assess whether the present system for calculating these targets was the most appropriate. The completed report is expected by mid 2007.
Defra updated the meeting on plans to revise the hosepipe ban legislation, and address the gap that had grown between modern water use and the way the law was currently framed. Reviews by Waterwise and UKWIR (UK Water Industry Research) had informed proposals which would form part of a consultation exercise in the new year. A parallel consultation would address potential changes to the Drought Direction 1991, which outlines those uses which can be restricted under a drought order.
The next meeting will take place in around six months' time.