Conservationists say homes should cut water use by 20%

Image caption,
An independent review in 2009 called for a big increase in the use of water meters

The amount of water used by households in England should be cut by 20%, according to conservation groups.

A coalition including the National Trust, RSPB and World Wildlife Fund is calling on ministers to include the target in legislation being drawn up.

It also wants them to do more to reduce pollution of lakes and rivers, and make polluters pay for any damage caused.

The government said it would take the ideas into account when drawing up its White Paper on water management.

'Water-friendly farming'

The coalition of 14 organisations launched its Blueprint for Water in 2006, and is now publishing a new set of recommendations it wants to see implemented by 2015.

They include:

  • waste less water - cut consumption by homes, buildings and businesses by at least 20%
  • encourage water-friendly farming - ensure more of the existing EU money given to farmers rewards those who reduce pesticide and fertiliser use, restore peat bogs and tackle overgrazing
  • reduce pollution - introduce targeted regulations to protect waterways and make those who flout them pay tougher penalties
  • protect and restore waterways - revoke abstraction licences where there is too much pressure on rivers, lakes and wetlands
  • price water fairly - so household bills accurately reflect usage, as in most other developed countries

Rob Cunningham, chairman of the coalition, said: "Industry, government, conservation bodies and the wider society all have a role to play in creating a sustainable water environment.

"We know this can be done and we know what steps need to be taken to achieve it - now we need to see real commitment from decision-makers to ensure it happens."

The campaigners say excessive pressure on rivers, wetlands, lakes and ponds has had a hugely detrimental impact on wildlife.

They say wading birds like curlew and snipe have declined by up to 60%, eel populations have been devastated and other species, like water voles, are under threat.

More meters

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the Blueprint for Water was "a useful contribution".

"Water is a precious resource and we must all play our part in helping to conserve it for the benefit of society and the environment both now and in the future," he said.

"The ideas set out in the blueprint will helpfully feed into our thinking as we develop our Water White Paper and a Natural Environment White Paper."

Defra's Water White Paper, due to be published next year, is expected to draw on the recommendations of the Walker review, published in 2009.

It called for water meters to be installed in 80% of homes in England, compared with 35% currently, to encourage consumers to use water more responsibly.

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