Average household charged 50p a day

THE AVERAGE water bill for 1993-94 is pounds 185 - just over 50p per day. This is almost 9 per cent above last year's figure, and just over 1.1 per cent of average household income.

There are large regional differences. South West Water has the highest average bill and highest increase - pounds 266 and 14 per cent - mainly because of a pounds 1bn investment programme for cleaning up the region's many sewage-polluted bathing beaches. Severn Trent, which has no beaches, has one of the lowest average bills, pounds 164.

'We've got the best drinking water in Europe . . . probably,' said Janet Langdon, director of the Water Services Association, which represents the big 10 water companies of England and Wales. She cannot substantiate her claim because no other European water utility is obliged to collate, analyse and make public the huge volume of data on tap water sampling. Last year's report by the Drinking Water Inspectorate, the industry's third regulator, found that, of nearly three million samples, more than 98 per cent complied with EC standards.

Between 1989 and next year, water bills will have risen by pounds 43 on average, according to Ofwat. By 2000, average water bills could be pounds 255 and pounds 345 five years thereafter. This is Ofwat's 'pure and green scenario', based on striving towards ever higher environmental and drinking water quality.

'Pure bloody guesswork,' one irritated National Rivers Authority executive said. The NRA is angry that Ofwat has attached a high price tag to one of its most cherished objectives - the implementation of 'statutory water quality' objectives for rivers. When approved, these would set a legal quality standard for every stretch of river - anyone using it to dump effluent would be obliged to work towards achieving that standard.

Ofwat fears these objectives will push up sewage bills endlessly. But the NRA said that in many cases the likely objectives were already being met. If the water companies were forced to steadily improve efficiency and find cheaper ways of borrowing money the bills they will be sending to customers in 2000 could be up to pounds 30 cheaper than they would otherwise have been, Ian Byatt, Ofwat's director, argued.

All the signs are that in setting his price caps for 1995- 2000 he will not want water bills to go up by more than 2 per cent a year above the inflation rate.