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Thursday 5th July 2012 | 00:01
Ministers must act now to prepare for a future where water resources in England will come under increasing pressure, says the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in its report published today.
MPs call on the Government to take rapid steps to tackle the environmental damage caused by the over-abstraction of water, and set more ambitious targets to increase levels of metering.
Launching the report, Anne McIntosh MP, EFRA Committee Chair said "We heard persuasive evidence about the environmental damage unleashed by over-abstraction. The Government's current plans - to reform the abstraction regime by the mid-to-late 2020s - will not take effect rapidly enough given that our rivers are already running dry.
"The reform of abstraction licenses must be brought forward to protect against the effect of severe droughts such as the one we saw earlier this year. Defra must also work with Ofwat and the Environment Agency to tackle urgently those abstractions which are already causing severe damage to our rivers.
The Committee also finds it "extremely disappointing" that the White Paper fails to set a target to increase levels of water metering.
"It's hard to see how the White Paper's call for water to be managed as a precious resource can be reconciled with the lack of any clear target to increase metering levels. Installing a meter is the most effective way to improve water efficiency, providing a clear incentive for householders to minimise wastage."
The report highlights how bad debt in the water sector adds around £15 to each household's water bill every year.
"It is simply unacceptable that hard-pressed yet honest householders are subsidising those who are able but unwilling to pay their water bills. Defra must implement existing legal provisions rapidly to tackle this problem," McIntosh said.
The Committee also examined proposals to reform the water industry in England to increase competition in the sector. MPs conclude that DEFRA should set a clear target date for opening a competitive retail market for water, and should take account of lessons that can be learned from Scotland, where retail competition has already been introduced.
"We welcome plans to increase competition in the water industry, although we believe that the White Paper's proposals for reform will fail to deliver a well-functioning retail market. We suggest how to remedy this and we look forward to examining revised proposals in more detail once the draft Water Bill is published," adds Anne McIntosh. The Committee calls on the Government to take action to encourage the development of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), which can reduce the risk of flooding, and to implement the relevant outstanding provisions of the Flood and Water Management Act 2010. MPs also said that it was "deeply worrying" that the Government had not yet reached an agreement with insurers about providing cover for homes in areas of flood risk.