Does ambitious water efficiency hold the key to bringing down water bills?

On 11 February 2015, an expert panel debated the role that more ambitious water efficiency held in meeting future demand for water more cheaply, following the publication of a new Green Alliance report.

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  1. Panellists were Professor Richard Ashley, University of Sheffield, Daniel Johns, head of adaptation at the Committee on Climate Change, Cathryn Ross, CEO of Ofwat, and Matthew Wright, CEO of Southern Water and funder of the project.
  2. William Andrews Tipper, head of sustainable business at Green Alliance and author of the report, presented its main findings. Climate change and an increasing population will make meeting demand for water increasingly expensive.
  3. Water efficiency measures could save households as much as £78 a year, equivalent to 20 per cent of the current combined water and wastewater bill.
  4. Current water company plans are to meet long term demand by investing in new sources of water supply, rather than ambitious water efficiency. This risks bills rising, due to the costs of new supply infrastructure such as reservoirs.
  5. The debate was chaired by Sue Armstrong Brown, policy director at Green Alliance, who asked the panel to describe the water efficiency challenge from the strategic, regulatory, operational and climate perspectives.
  6. Professor Richard Ashley, University of Sheffield, was the first panellist to speak, addressing the culture of treating households as consumers that contributes to high individual water use, and the current fragmented management of the water system. Technology cannot be the sole answer, and management of water flows through catchments needs to be part of future planning alongside efficiency.
  7. Cathryn Ross, CEO of Ofwat, welcomed Green Alliance's report as a valuable contribution to busting the myth that efficiency and affordability are trade-offs. She outlined Ofwat's new outcomes-based strategy, which encourages water companies more scope to be innovative in delivering their obligations.
  8. Matthew Wright, CEO of Southern Water and report sponsor, reflected that managing water scarcity in the South East will require strong leadership to minimise environmental impacts and financial costs. Water companies now have greater freedom to innovate in how they meet demand, but taking novel approaches carries greater risks.
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