Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Time for universal water metering?


With recent announcements of potential impending water shortages, everyone is being urged to do their bit to avert further draconian measures. Yet, according to OFWAT, the government’s water industry regulator, less than 30 percent of households in the UK have metered water supply. The other seventy percent can use as much water as they want, with few limits in a normal year and not that many at the moment given the current drought. So is it time for universal water metering? Dr Jonathan Chenoweth of the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey argues the case.

Imagine the situation: Rises in the price of petrol have an unequal impact on society. Price rises force car-dependent people on low incomes to spend a disproportionate percentage of their income on what for many is a basic need. Meanwhile, the wealthy notice little effect on their household budgets. Clearly, the government should deal with this inequity. One solution would be to make people pay a set fee for petrol based not on consumption, but on their ability to pay. All car users could pay a set percentage of their income towards petrol supply and petrol could then be made available to all car users as needed. Travel would become more affordable for the poor and a major social inequity solved. Would this be a much fairer and more efficient way to manage petrol consumption than our present system?

Introducing un-metered petrol supply across Britain and expecting people not to waste petrol would, of course, be absurd. Fortunately, despite the unequal effects of recent petrol price rises, the idea is not under consideration. No one would ever promote the unrestrained use of a limited, scarce resource, whose use has major environmental impacts. And yet, in the case of water, this is exactly what is happening in 70% of UK households.

Replacing the washer of a leaking tap is an easy DIY job costing next to nothing, but why bother? There is little point buying any water efficient appliance either. Under the current system it would be far better financially to put the money saved by buying a cheaper but water-inefficient washing machine towards a more fuel-efficient car. The current system suggests to consumers of water that it is not a scarce resource and there is little point in trying to conserve it.

In most countries with scarce water there is universal water metering. However, moves towards universal metering raise serious issues of equality and the potential impact on those with the least ability to pay. No-one in a wealthy country like Britain should ever be denied access to water because of poverty, and no-one should be forced into water poverty – i.e. being forced to spend a disproportionate percentage of their income meeting their basic water needs. A study by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs done in 2004 found that the poorest households, such as single pensioners living on the minimum pension credit allowance, spend approximately five percent of their income paying an average water bill, whereas the average household spends only one percent. Clearly, the current system has its own inequalities.

A move towards universal water metering need not come at the expense of equality, but could be done in such a way that ensures those with the least ability to pay are not denied access to water for basic human needs. One way of doing this is to give all households a free (or nearly free) basic minimum water allocation and couple this with price-escalating charging for all consumption above this level. Charging could thus be set so that average water consumers meet the real costs of supply, while households with excessive water consumption would, in effect, subsidise very frugal households using only their basic minimum allocation. Excessive water users would also have a real incentive to use less as the more water used, the more would be paid for each litre of water received.

If we are serious about the availability and supply of water in Britain, perhaps it is time we gave people a real incentive to save water. The message of the need to save water is not very convincing when water consumption is not even measured. Maybe it is time to follow the lead of other countries and send an unambiguous message to all water consumers that water is a scarce resource, so much so in fact that you should actually pay attention to, and pay financially for the amount you actually use.

Stuart Miller | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Sea turtles face plastic pollution peril
09.10.2015 | University of Exeter

nachricht NOAA declares third ever global coral bleaching event
08.10.2015 | NOAA Headquarters

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Light Touch May Help Animals and Robots Move on Sand and Snow

Having a light touch can make a hefty difference in how well animals and robots move across challenging granular surfaces such as snow, sand and leaf litter. Research reported October 9 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biomimetics shows how the design of appendages – whether legs or wheels – affects the ability of both robots and animals to cross weak and flowing surfaces.

Using an air fluidized bed trackway filled with poppy seeds or glass spheres, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology systematically varied the...

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to build light rail vehicles for cities in the US

12.10.2015 | Press release

Siemens to add an additional 173 megawatts to Clyde onshore wind farm in Scotland

12.10.2015 | Press release

Scientists paint quantum electronics with beams of light

12.10.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>