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Demanding more for the water environment

It is almost exactly two years since Link's Blueprint for Water Group responded to Defra’s 2019 consultation on policy measures to reduce personal water consumption. The government response was published last week along with the analysis of evidence and summary of response. Was it worth the wait…..? Nathan Richardson, Head of Policy at Waterwise shares his thoughts.

July 2021

The amount of water we each use every day has pretty much doubled in my 55 years and there are also an additional 14 million of us in the UK to supply! We know that meeting our growing thirst for water is impacting our wetland environment with every extra litre of water we use increasing pressure on our rivers, lakes, aquifers and chalk streams.

Despite the efforts of Waterwise, the water sector and others we are struggling to reverse this trend. Indeed, recent studies have shown we need to find an additional 4,000 million litres a day over the next two or three decades to maintain supplies. Pretty much everyone, including Blueprint for Water, has been calling on the government to bring forward more supportive policies that can help us bring our water demand down. Last week's announcement was long overdue but welcome.

A really positive commitment to a mandatory water label
For me this was the stand out positive in the announcement. Like the existing energy label, a mandatory water efficiency label on water using products like taps and showers will help consumers to choose more efficient products. It also enables those specifying fittings for new homes or in retrofits to set clear efficiency requirements (for only use A or B rated products). Our research with the Energy Savings Trust summarised here found that this single measure can help reduce household consumption by around 15% saving customers water, energy and money. Follow-up analysis by Artesia and Eftec for Water UK flagged that this is the single most impactful policy measure the government could have taken.

Lacking enough ambition and urgency on new development
However, the measures announced to improve water efficiency in new housing were a lot less ambitious and lacked urgency. We are still building houses that aren't even as water efficient as the personal water use targets the regulators and water companies have agreed. I wanted to see a move immediately to at least the 110 litres per day minimum standard everywhere with a timetable to go further. But, crucially, we also need a clear policy signal from the government that for larger developments and in water stressed areas, the expectation is for local planning authorities and developers to go beyond these “minimum” standards...including considering making new development water neutral. The proposed letter from government to planning authorities must send this signal.

Whilst a 2022 roadmap for more water efficient new and existing buildings is welcome and I look forward to contributing to it, it feels like we could have used the last two years since the 2019 consultation to have developed it.

We need to get smarter on water metering
The other area where I would have liked to have seen a bit more ambition in the statement is on smart water metering. The statement is very cautious in tone on metering, despite growing evidence from the smart meters rolled out already that they are a game changer in terms of helping engagement with customers on water use and reducing household leakage. As the sector rolls out smart meters and the benefits become more apparent I suspect policy in this area will need to change.

So overall I am feeling “glass half full” in terms of the statement….but only just! We shouldn't underestimate the importance of the water label commitment. But it is also obvious to me that there is still a lot more needed from policy makers if we are serious about reducing the impact of our water consumption on the environment and securing future supplies for people and businesses.

Nathan Richardson is Head of Policy at Waterwise.

Follow: @Waterwise

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.