Health risk warning on water

COMPETITION IN the water industry could put customers' health at risk and lead to huge rises in bills for rural customers, Britain's water companies said yesterday.

In a letter to the government Water UK, the industry body, sharply criticised proposals by Ian Byatt, director general of the regulator Ofwat, to open up the market for water. Mr Byatt has said in press interviews that he wants to introduce more competition among privatised water firms, mirroring moves in the gas and electricity markets.

The water companies argued that Mr Byatt's intention to set up "common carriage" - allowing companies to pump water into a rival firm's pipelines - for large business customers could lead to a deterioration in water quality. They said that the risk of the outbreak of diseases would be increased by the mixture of different types of water in the pipes and by the arrival of new entrants with less demanding safety standards. An OFWAT spokeswoman rejected Water UK's criticisms.