Water firm targets rich to beat the drought

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The Independent Online
NICHOLAS SCHOON

Environment Correspondent

One of Britain's biggest water companies is to meter up to 30,000 mainly affluent homes as part of a package of anti-drought measures.

In parts of North West Water's region, some reservoirs are still less than 20 per cent full. At this time of year they should have been almost completely replenished by rainfall.

And Manchester, its biggest conurbation, has utterly failed to live up to its rainy reputation, according to the Meteorological Office. In the last 10 months it has been drier than Madrid and Athens and almost every other large western European city - when on average it is one of the wettest.

Between last April and now, Manchester has had just over half its average rainfall, making this the driest period in 70 years.

North West Water, which serves 2.7 million households, yesterday announced moves to take extra water from boreholes, boost the capacity of treatment works and speed up the rate at which leaks are repaired. It put the total cost at pounds 28m.

For a year, starting on 1 April, the company will offer householders free repairs for leaks which are their responsibility - in the supply pipe from the point where it enters the property boundary. But this service will not extend to council tenants, because the company argues that these repairs are the council's responsibility.

Customers usually have no idea whether their own part of the pipe is leaking, but North West Water says its leakage detection teams can track down these escapes. It estimates that one-fifth of all mains leakage is on the customer's side.

The company wants to force all households which take large quantities of water for ``non- domestic'' uses to have meters, installed free of charge. This would include customers who have a swimming pool ``or make extensive use of a sprinkler''. It will start in the areas with the worst shortages - east Lancashire and areas to the south and east of Manchester. Bob Armstrong, their customer services director, said people could be forced to take the meters, provided the regulator, Ofwat, approved the basis on which they were allocated.

The criteria for choosing households had not yet been decided, but if customers did not volunteer information on whether they had pools or on how much they used their sprinklers, the company would explore other ways of finding out. It knows of one register of swimming pools in new homes which is in the public domain.

The company already has a hosepipe ban, restrictions on watering golf courses and filling swimming pools, covering most of its customers.

Late last year, Severn Trent said all homes using a sprinkler must have a meter installed, free of charge, or stop using the sprinkler. So far, only 3,000 out of 3 million homes - one in 1,000 - have said they want to carry on sprinkling and have a meter fitted.

Yorkshire Water, which also has severe drought problems, said it had no plans to make meters compulsory for homes with swimming pools and sprinklers.

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