Regulators battle over increases in water bills: Rivers body days spending will only maintain quality of water, not improve it. Nicholas Schoon and Mary Fagan report

WATER BILLS have been rising faster than the rate of inflation since the mid-1980s and the upward curve is getting ever steeper. At the same time, few customers will have noticed any difference in the service.

Low income households have been especially hard hit because many used to pay for water as part of weekly council rent and rate payments. Now water is billed separately and the disconnection rate is rising.

Ian Byatt, the industry's economic regulator in England and Wales, soon has to decide how much above the rate of inflation the water companies can raise their bills between 1995 and 2000. He argues that relentless increases driven by ever higher standards for drinking water and the environment are intolerable. And he believes the public are behind him.

But the National Rivers Authority (NRA), the water industry's chief environmental regulator, has been infuriated by some of Mr Byatt's claims.

Michael Howard, the Secretary of State for the Environment, has to make the final judgement and both regulators are making increasingly strident appeals to him.

Up until 1995 water bills will increase by an average of 5 per cent a year above inflation. That cannot be altered. The main reason is that water companies have promised to undertake huge investment programmes required to bring the quality of drinking water and level of effluent from sewage works up to UK and EC standards set more than a decade ago.

Mr Byatt, Ofwat director general, wants to stop water bills rising in the same way in the second half of the 1990s. 'It is not an escalator that the public is prepared to ride,' he said, pointing out that the long-term average growth in household income is only 2 per cent a year above inflation.

The NRA fears the public is being fooled into believing that the current investment in sewage treatment is to meet unnecessarily high standards. Not at all, Lord Crickhowell, NRA chairman and a former Tory Cabinet minister, said in an impassioned letter to Mr Howard last month.

An extensive NRA survey found that the rivers of England and Wales became dirtier between 1985 and 1990. The poor performance of overloaded inland sewage works was one of the main causes. The NRA says the bulk of current spending on these works is needed to sustain river quality, not improve it, and to belatedly meet the requirements of the Control of Pollution Act of 1974.

The Government has also ordered the water companies to meet the standards of the EC's drinking water directive by 1995, 15 years after it should have come into force. That alone requires an investment of more than pounds 2bn between 1990 and 1995. The water companies and Mr Byatt feel the directive sets health standards which cannot be justified scientifically.

This European legislation bans tap water which contains any pesticide above a concentration of one part in 10 billion. When the directive was proposed in the 1970s, no scientific instrument could detect chemicals at a lower concentration. It was the EC's way of saying there should be absolutely no pesticides in drinking water.

The World Health Organisation has maximum levels for pesticides in drinking water below which, in its judgement, there is no threat to human health. The water companies would prefer to use the WHO limit and have begun a campaign, along with their continental colleagues, to have the directive altered.

This is a complex process which will take years of negotiation and require the unanimous consent of EC environment ministers. In Britain, in the meantime, the money will have been spent and the standard met.

Belated compliance with the EC's bathing waters directive is also driving up bills. Hundreds of pipes which discharge sewage a few yards off the beach are being replaced with systems to pipe it further out to sea.

Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sport
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
tech
News
people
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
News
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
News
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
media
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Test Job

TBC: Test Recruiter for iJobs: Job London (Greater)

Head of Marketing - Pensions

£65000 - £75000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

SEN (Visual Impairement) Tutor

£120 - £180 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are looki...

School Receptionist

£70 - £100 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: School Receptionist - Part ...

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis