River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Water Meters

March 2001

Are they really necessary?

It almost seems laughable now that five or more years ago we were having such a dry spell that there was continual talk in the media about water shortages and how this was going to be a major problem in the future due to global warming. One solution that was widely advocated was to fit water meters to every household and charge for each drop of water used. This, it was argued, would make people less wasteful with water. The Government of the day, by way of OFWAT, decreed that all new properties should have water meters and urged a programme of fitting water meters to existing properties. Needless to say the newly privatised water companies were attracted to a situation where their supply meters were going to act like money counters, clocking up pounds for every turn of the dial

Was it necessary? Was it a good idea even? The southeast is the area that has the least rainfall and it is there that a programme of fitting water meters might seem to be most appropriate. In this dry area there are very roughly some 10,000,000 homes. To install a meter must cost £100 at the very least, including labour, so that the cost of completely converting all these homes to meters would be around one billion. Then there is the problem of reading and maintaining the meters and billing the customers according to their usage; possibly as much as £30/year for quarterly bills. In other words, a total cost of £300,000,000/year. Inevitably, all of these costs would be passed on to the consumer.

Water meters are socially divisive in that they penalise the less well off, especially those with large families. They could even discourage personal hygiene, whilst the better off will not be deterred from using as much water as they choose. The old system of charging a fixed sum in relation to the ratable value or council tax is fairer, given the possibility of a discount for pensioners and single people. By avoiding the massive cost of installation and maintenance of meters, water bills could be kept low. With the wetter weather of recent years the talk of widespread fitting of meters has died down. Let us hope that it will be quietly forgotten. Meanwhile those, like me, with a new house are stuck with it.

Various studies have shown that, by making maximum use of natural waterways and bridging across at the most advantageous locations, it is possible to transfer water from the wet north-west to the south-east at a lower cost than that required for installing meters and with much lower annual costs. Such a move would ease any water shortage problems and remove the need for meters.

Ron Watts

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