Water metering: entirely sensible

Lord Krebs said the need to adapt to climate change means metering must become more widespread.

Ministers should introduce water meters with a sliding price scale, charging people more for water beyond a certain amount, he said.

At the moment the average person uses 150 litres of water a day. The Government’s current water strategy says that must fall to 130 litres.

Forget the climate change bit….and forget that idiocy of targets being set.

Look instead at the basic proposal: above certain limits the more water you use the more you pay per unit.

Water, as simply water, is not something in short supply in the UK. Purified water, available all year round, is indeed an economic good. It costs something to purify, store and supply it and thus should and must be charged for.

The question is then, how should it be charged for?

A flat fee only (as with water rates) means that usage is not taken account of. But purely by unit also has problems: there are huge fixed costs in the supply system for a start, so a secure income is probably desirable. You should, perhaps, be paying for the ability to get water, even if you don\’t use any: all those second homes should be paying something for being connected even when not occupied.

I\’m very taken with the way that it works in this part of Portugal. This is a place with serious supply issues: there are dams and lakes all over the place and if you\’re looking to buy a country cottage not on the mains then the first question you ask is where is the dam/lake on the land? We are, this morning, having our first drizzle since May and we don\’t expect real rains for another 6 weeks or so.

The system is that you pay (or at least, our little cottage, quintina, on the mains) 20 euro a month for the basic supply (plus 2 for mains sewers). This is enough to run a household, washing machine, showers, baths etc.

As and when we water the garden (10 minutes morning and night through the summer, enough to stop it drying out but not to the point of a verdantly green lawn all year) this will add perhaps 20 euro to that monthly bill. Seems a fair enough price to pay for having that lawn type garden (not a normal thing to have around here).

We filled up an above ground pool with, I think I\’m right, 18,000 litres and that showed up as an extra 30 euro on the bill (some of the charge for that was included in our monthly base rate).

So the poor can definitely afford the water needed to run a household and if you decide you\’re going to use this scarce resource for luxuries (which a lawn and a pool are) then you pay more.

Where it really becomes painful is if you decide you want to liberally water an extensive garden or, lordy forbid, you have a burst pipe. We had the connection to a loo break in an outbuilding and no one noticed it for several days: so, a tap running for anywhere up to a week. 300 euro bill please. A friend down the road had the pipe from the meter to the house break, didn\’t notice for a few days. 600 euros please.

You only need that to happen to you once and you keep an ear open for the frantic ticking of the meter as it runs at full pelt: and if you can\’t work out why it is (a bath is running say, or you\’re topping off the evaporation losses from the pool) then you go and look and find out why.

Which is, of course, the aim of exactly such a system.

I suggest that this is a great charging system for water: and it\’s great purely on economic grounds, there\’s no need to drag climate change or anything else in to justify it.

11 thoughts on “Water metering: entirely sensible”

  1. “You only need that to happen to you once and you keep an ear open for the frantic ticking of the meter as it runs at full pelt….”

    Surely that’s something technology can resolve? A device that emails or Tweets or sounds an audible warning at non-standard water use?

    Tim adds: Sure…I only said this system is good, not perfect.

  2. The problem i have with this is that it’s another stupid central directive.

    Some parts do indeed have water shortages, though even then it’s rare.

    Some places water is just never in short supply, and in such areas a flat fee to cover the infrastructure is more appropriate.

  3. Water saving is not such a good idea…

    If we don’t use enough water, the pipes get overrun by bacteria as the Germans found. And sewers that don’t not have enough flow passing through also crumble faster.

    The water companies are now having to flush the pipes on a regular basis…



  4. > Forget the climate change bit….and forget that idiocy of targets being set.

    You might they won’t. That alone makes it a bad idea.

  5. We once got an enormous bill and traced the cause to a leak downstream of the water meter that had been caused by the water company changing our meter without a word of warning to us. It’s as well to remember the extent to which the British working man, Gawd bless ‘im, ban bugger up the most rational of systems.

  6. @Serf. Yep, hosepipe bans are stupid. More water is used in a normal household by flushing the loo and baths etc than the amount used by normal usage of hosepipes. You’d have to be growing a rice paddy to use more water than used internally. The only reason its used is because with no meters the only way of monitoring it is to check people’s gardens to see if they are lush and verdant.

    With meters, a better way of implementing a water cutback in times of drought would be to charge a large amount on the water used above the average used by each household. Then it’s up to the household to either pay extra for their water or save money and use less.

  7. Even here in Finland (where clean water is not expensive to produce and is always plentiful) the system is a fixed fee for access to water, and a metered charging for use. Has been like that ever since the metering devices were invented, decades or a century ago. I’m slightly astonished that this is even discussed in Britain.

    What irritates me of course is that many household devices are optimized for an environment more resembling Germany: frugal people, especially frugal with water. Well, in Germany there’s a reason, because you have things like the mega-city around Ruhr which takes water from the Rhein/whatever, purifies it, uses it for washing and flushing the toilet, cleanses the wastewater, and then lets it back to the Rhein/whatever (for the next city to use). So, saving water is essential

    So, things like dishwashers try to clean up dishes by hurling the same pathetic 5 litres of water back and forth, generating noise and eating energy, while we would be better optimized by using a bit more water, and washing quicker, and producing less noise. But then, Germany is a bigger market, so it’s not worthwhile to produce locally optimized dishwashers for our use.

    For us, the problem of water saving is such that the water company often has to flush clean water straight to the wastewater pipes, because otherwise they’ll get stuck due to too little water current going through.

  8. I am also curious as to why we still use purified water for gardens and for flushing toilets. We only need purified water for faucets, the dishwasher and the laundry. For the rest we could used whatever comes out of the ground-river-lake. Although perhaps partially treated, or clarified, where it starts out a bit foul. Who wants a toilet bowl prefilled with a stinky mess?

    I assume that laying dual supply pipes was considered uneconomic. This analysis was done long ago and at a time of much different economics, so perhaps in this day of cheap piping we should reconsider.

    This is apparently quite common in the part of Germany with which I am familiar. They have a high water table, everyone has their own fairly shallow well and they use well water at least to irrigate their gardens. On my last visit back to my mother’s home Dorf my uncle Willi showed me the pumps and pipes and whatnots.

  9. The Isle of Wight is one of the few areas of the UK where meters are standard. The alacrity with which leaks on the mains side of the meter are fixed is remarkable. Given that in most of the country, a shockingly large fraction of water is lost before it reaches the consumer, the effects of widespread metering are likely to be equally salutary.

  10. I thought that people are unhappy if things are not measured and rationed. Especially if a black market can be developed.

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