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 Taking a molecular approach to conserving freshwater biodiversity
09.11.2015 | Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM)

nachricht Faster digestion in kangaroos reduces methane emissions
05.11.2015 | Universität Zürich

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: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

Im Focus: Climate Change: Warm water is mixing up life in the Arctic

AWI researchers’ unique 15-year observation series reveals how sensitive marine ecosystems in polar regions are to change

The warming of arctic waters in the wake of climate change is likely to produce radical changes in the marine habitats of the High North. This is indicated by...

Im Focus: Nanocarriers may carry new hope for brain cancer therapy

Berkeley Lab researchers develop nanoparticles that can carry therapeutics across the brain blood barrier

Glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer of the brain also known as "octopus tumors" because of the manner in which the cancer cells extend their tendrils into...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Siemens Healthcare introduces the Cios family of mobile C-arms

20.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens offers concrete solution portfolio for Industrie 4.0 with Digital Enterprise

24.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Compact, rugged, three-phase power supplies for worldwide use

24.11.2015 | Trade Fair News

Sensor sees nerve action as it happens

24.11.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>