According to recent government estimates the average household uses around fifty thousand litres of water each year purely for drinking and bathing. When put into context this amount is enough to fill the average size private swimming pool; additionally, if this amount of water was bough in shops in bottles, it would cost around twenty thousand pounds. Considering this figure, the water bills we must pay seem a bargain, but while it is still relatively cheap, bills have increased steadily in recent years. As seemingly all of the utility bills are increasing, this is worrying; as a result of these rising bills however, installing water meters can be a great way to save water, and hence money.
The situation in the UK is that water companies have complete control over the geographic areas they operate in. Because of this, the water companies can charge nearly any price they like, although the industry is regulated by the watchdog, Ofwat. Because of these geographic restrictions, inter-company competition is non-existent, unlike the other utilities, consumers do not have the option to switch supplier that is unless they move house to a new region. Depending upon the region however, it is likely that meters will be in use in order to control user water consumption.
Government and industry experts have colluded to produce an average saving per household of around one hundred and twenty pounds after the installation of a water meters. The rule of thumb is that if a household has more bedrooms than residents, water meters will be worth installing. It is not just a financial saving however, it is believed that psychologically households use less water with the knowledge that it is being metered, some estimates place this saving at around ten percent. There are however problems with switching to meters. There is shift in onus from the supplier to the homeowner should a leak occur, meaning that if you experience a leak for an extended period of time, it could turn out to be very expensive.
The choice whether to install water meters however is likely to be removed from a lot of households; especially in the south of England. In some areas the government has rolled out plans for compulsory metering in the next half decade. One of these areas is in Kent, around Dover and Felixstowe. The local water board has put forward plans to install twenty thousand in homes all over the region. This plan is a reaction to certain areas' excessive water usage and will attempt to reduce consumption levels considerably.
This plan, while only regional at the moment is likely to become more widespread in the future. The ultimate objective of the government is to put meters in all regions, but in the foreseeable future only the regions that are considered to be 'waterscarce' will be focussed upon. It is hoped that through these measures the instances of water shortages will be reduced. Once these plans have been introduced into the hardest hit areas, meters will be rolled out all over the country. By doing this the government hopes to pre-empt any problems with the water supply in future years.
This is an ongoing worry for the government who are hoping that effective long term planning and the widespread implementation of water meters will mean the nation's consumption falls considerably. Most new homes in the country now have meters and seemingly, houses in waterscarce regions will also have them soon. Water is the source of life and it is only through efficient and wide reaching fore thinking that we will be able to secure this most valuable of natural resources.
Culture and society expert Thomas Pretty looks into government plans for water meters in the country as a whole.