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  News about Britain
April 2003
Each month, the background to a story about Britain.
Read the story, then read the comments sent in by all of you on the topic of water.
Water in hands
Story summary

Water is essential to life. But there are many ways of managing its distribution, and ensuring it is suitable for people to drink. Read the article, check the meaning of words you don't know, and then tell us what you think about the three questions we've given you. Finally, listen to a World Service radio programme on water.


Britain rarely suffers from droughts - there's usually too much rain to find empty reservoirs. But it's still a topic that gets people talking. The cost of it, for example. In some parts of the United Kingdom the supply of water has been privatised. Regional water companies are responsible for water and sewerage. But in Northern Ireland charges are just being introduced.

Water meters are not used in Northern Ireland and are rare in Scotland - but they're becoming more common in other parts of the country. What should happen if you don't pay your bill? Water suppliers in England and Wales have the legal power to disconnect customers who have not paid their bills, but disconnections are always a last resort for water companies and the number of households that have been disconnected because of unpaid bills has been going down. In Scotland and Northern Ireland disconnection is illegal.

Sometimes there's too much water. Summer floods in 2002 caused hardships to many families in Glasgow who were not insured against flood damage. Comedian Billy Connolly helped to raise money with "Welly Aid". The 19th century sewage system was blamed. When it was built it promoted greater public health through improved water quality. But that was a century ago.

Water quality is another problem. Farmers are sometimes blamed for putting on their fields fertilisers and other chemicals which later leach into rivers, especially when the water table is high. But hundreds of Scottish farmers have been helping to clean up pollution and help protect bathing water.

Finally, what about the water we drink in restaurants? Britons spend £700m a year on bottled mineral water. Elegant blue glass bottles of Ty Nant water from Wales featured in the latest James Bond movie. (Shaken, not stirred, naturally.) But a report by the Drinking Water Inspectorate claims that tap water is better than ever.

Learn some language connected with this topic in the Glossary:

View the Glossary/wordbank for News about Britain

Click here to learn more, listen to a programme and read the scripts.
Here are the questions we asked you about water.
  • When you go to a restaurant, do you order tap water or bottled mineral water?

  • If farmers or industry pollute drinking water, who should pay for the clean up?

  • How should households pay for water - by the average they consume or by accurate metering?

Thanks for sending us your comments. This topic is now closed. However, you can click here to read all the comments you sent us. Here's one example:

"I really enjoyed this issue. Water is everything. Water is life. Here in Brasil, we have a lot of water resources but Goverment and comunities are getting very worried about it because we have too much pollution, too. certainly it can damange water. HERE we have also heard about water recycling. Universities are studing ways to save and rational usage of water. oh that ´s all for now. I do apreciate talking something about us to BBC World Service."

  BBC Links about Water:

BBC World Service has scheduled a series of programmes on the theme of water. Click here to learn more, listen to a programme and read the scripts.




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