A report from the House of Commons public accounts committee today says that all the bodies responsible for the UK’s water supply – Defra, Ofwat and the Environment Agency – have “taken their eye off the ball” and must take urgent action. Otherwise our water supply will simply dry up.
“It is wholly unacceptable that over 3 billion litres are wasted every day through leakage, with no improvement in the last 20 years,” the report says.
“From a high of over 4.5 billion litres a day in the early 1990s, daily losses through leakage fell to around 3 billion at the turn of the century. However, this reduction was followed by over a decade of complacency and inaction, which has meant water leakage is now a hugely pressing problem.”
It continues: “No one organisation has got a thorough grip on dealing with this issue and driving the change necessary. The Department [for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs] urged water companies in 2016 to make tackling leakage a much higher priority. However, there has still been little progress.”
The committee acknowledged that some action was now being taken but remained “unconvinced” it was enough.
“The Department has belatedly set annual targets for water companies and longer-term targets to reduce leakage by a third by 2030 and by half by 2050,” the report says. “Ofwat assures us that companies are exposed to substantial penalties if they do not meet their targets over the next five years and is confident that the worst performing companies are now starting to get their act together. Ofwat now expects leakage to fall by 16% between 2020 and 2025, which would result in 561 million litres of water a day being saved. However, meeting the targets relies on unknown and untested approaches. We are unconvinced by Ofwat’s hope that water companies will ‘surprise themselves’ at what they can achieve, and call on the Department and Ofwat to be more proactive in ensuring companies meet leakage targets.”
Public accounts committee chair Meg Hillier MP said: “It is very hard to imagine, in this country, turning the tap and not having enough clean, drinkable water come out - but that is exactly what we now face. Continued inaction by the water industry means we continue to lose one fifth of our daily supply to leaks.
“Empty words on climate commitments and unfunded public information campaigns will get us where we’ve got the last 20 years: nowhere. Defra has failed to lead and water companies have failed to act: we look now to the Department to step up, make up for lost time and see we get action before it’s too late.”