LETTER: Oblections don't hold water

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The Independent Online
GEOFFREY LEAN cites some potent evidence of poor decisions in the water supply industry ("The excuses run dry", 2 July). But, whatever the public's views on executives' pay or the adequacy of investment in the distribution network, one question has to be faced: in what other market does the customer expect, in return for a fixed annual charge, to receive any quantity desired of a commodity whose unit price is precisely zero?

Metering would save water, not only during summer droughts but also in the longer term, where users face the threat of steadily rising charges to meet the cost of increasing capacity to meet demands unrestricted by price. The objection that metering would "hurt the poor" scarcely holds water: the tariffs already available include both a fixed annual charge and a unit rate, and there would be no difficulty in including the entitlement to use a certain quantity at a zero price. That would meet basic needs for potable water and public health considerations. The losers from universal domestic metering would be those who use water extravagantly.

The reduction of leakage from the mains can but postpone the day when either metering is introduced (in line with unchallenged practice in almost every other country), or costly new works have to be undertaken. A good starting point would be for companies to restrict the use of hoses and sprinklers to those who had elected to pay by meter.

P G O'Neill

Cocking, West Sussex

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