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Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110   Fax: 020 7405 4967

Water Efficiency and Conservation


This Policy Position Statement (PPS) outlines the main issues relating to water use efficiency and conservation, taking account of legislation, water industry operations and other matters of concern to legislators, regulators, the public and other stakeholders, particularly in a UK context.

CIWEM'S Position on Water Efficiency and Conservation:

CIWEM considers that the efficient use of water is a key component of sustainable water resources management.  As an Institution, we take the following policy positions:

  1. Continued growth in water use will have an increasing environmental impact which may be exacerbated by climate change, lifestyle change, population growth and housing development.  CIWEM believes water must be used more efficiently to mitigate this risk;
  2. the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will mean that amongst other things, reductions in water use will be required to deliver reduced carbon emissions from the water industry;
  3. all water consumption should be measured where it is practical and economic to do so and  innovative water tariffs should be introduced which take account of environmental and public health needs;
  4. Government should introduce regulations to require all new homes to have water efficient appliances and investigate incentives to encourage retrofitting of efficient appliances in the existing housing stock;
  5. Government should implement an appliance labelling scheme for water use;
  6. all licensed abstractors should have a duty to conserve the use of water in their own operations and to promote the efficient use of water by their customers;
  7. the system for the economic regulation of water companies requires review to ensure stronger financial incentives are in place to encourage water efficiency;
  8. water suppliers and water users should continue to implement water efficiency measures, and should continue to innovate and adapt to meet particular circumstances;
  9. the work of the Water Savings Group and Waterwise to educate industry and households to use water wisely must be continued and funded for as long as the need for improved efficiency in water use exists, and for at least the next 5 years;
  10. CIWEM welcomes the introduction into the Water Act 2003 of a duty to conserve water upon the Secretary of State, Ofwat, water companies and all public bodies.  CIWEM advocates all parties working together in support of this.



Sustainability is a central concept to water resource management in the UK and overseas. The United Nations (UN) conference on the Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 resulted in the promotion of sustainable development through Agenda 21 in the following terms:

"The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations"

The International Conference on Water and the Environment organised by the UN and World Meteorological Office and held in Dublin in 1992 set out how these principles translate into policy for the water sector, with demand management forming a central component of sustainable water resources management. This is recognised by national and international organisations.

In the UK, this approach is reflected in policy statements emanating from the Environment Agency, the Office of Water Services (Ofwat), Government departments like the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and Communities and Local Government (CLG), environmental groups, water companies and other professional groups, with a consensus emerging concerning the role of water efficiency.  The so called 'twin track' approach reflects a more overtly open and balanced approach to water management, whereby the costs and benefits of new water resource developments which may be needed to meet demand are considered alongside the opportunities for managing demand, and more efficient water use. The current challenge is to design and implement effective and efficient water use policies which meet economic, social and environmental needs.

National Initiatives

In England and Wales, the Environment Agency has done much to promote awareness of water demand management.  In this it has been supported by Government and Ofwat, and by the efforts of water companies.

CIWEM welcomes and applauds the establishment of the Water Savings Group and Waterwise in 2005. The Water Savings Group is a Government-initiated group of key stakeholders: Defra, CLG, Ofwat, Environment Agency, Consumer Council for Water (CCW), Waterwise and water companies (through Water UK). Its purpose is to undertake specific water efficiency workstreams dealing with targets, the evidence base, best practice, education and policy. Waterwise was set up by the water companies, for a 5 year period, with the aim of providing an independent voice to develop a model framework for sustained water efficiency in the UK and reverse the upward trend in per capita consumption.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee undertook a detailed inquiry into water management during 2005-06. Their report contains a comprehensive and multi-faceted range of recommendations that require appropriate action from all stakeholders. The report incorporated many of CIWEM's proposals to the Committee.

CLG has produced a Code for Sustainable Homes based on, and in April 2007 replacing, the BRE Ecohomes Standard.  This contains targets for water efficiency in new homes and in the summer of 2007 was subject to consultation on making certain of its ratings mandatory.

Environmental Impact

There is growing occurrence and evidence of adverse environmental impact resulting from over-licensed abstraction resulting in low flow rivers, dehydrated wetlands and damage to the habitats of in-situ flora and fauna. These impacts may be exacerbated by droughts and the effects of climate change. The Government, regulators, and many major abstractors, including water companies, are committed to restoring the most affected aquatic environments and aim where possible to minimise the environmental impact of water abstraction. A key requirement for minimising the actual or potential environmental impact of over-abstraction is to ensure that water is used efficiently and not wasted, and wherever possible, returned to the environment in the right place and with the right quality, after it has been used.

Demand Forecasts

Water company demand forecasts for England and Wales anticipate growth in demand to 2030. Even with effective demand management, there will be local areas of growth, particularly in the south and east of England, where demand is likely to increase.  Household growth and in particular the proposed new sustainable communities developments promoted by CLG is a key driver of growth, although additional demand may be offset by reductions in non-household use, leakage and water efficiency measures if these can be delivered and sustained.  Transfers in bulk supplies or licences can also help to remedy regional differences in the supply-demand balance which will help to avoid new abstractions from rivers and groundwater.

Water Efficient Products

Water efficiency gains can be made in both industry and the domestic setting.  There is arguably greater incentive for large industrial users to improve their efficiency as their water consumption is measured and charged for accordingly, and this cost may be a significant outgoing.  Many early movers have recognised the financial and public relations benefits that can come from a targeted water efficiency drive; but many others have yet to realise the gains, such that the residual benefits to be had are still large.

For the domestic user there remains little financial incentive to improve efficiency as the majority of customers remain un-metered.  Much reliance is currently placed on awareness and education to change householder behaviour.  Increasingly, new products and fittings use less water.  A voluntary labelling scheme for toilet cisterns, showers, taps etc was launched in March 2007 by the Bathroom Manufacturers Association and in 2006 Waterwise launched a Marque to award particularly efficient products.  There is yet to be a mandatory labelling scheme for products such as that which applies to energy using appliances.  Toilet flushing accounts for up to a third of total domestic water consumption yet cistern volumes commonly vary between 4.5 and 11 litres.  Washing machine water consumption may vary from 6 and 19 litres of water per Kg of load.   All such developments help people to use less and waste less water.  But in the end, it is people who use water, and it is still people who need to be encouraged and incentivised to value water more highly and to use it more wisely.

Discussion of Key Issues

In our view, four key issues are critical to the future implementation of water efficiency measures by water suppliers, water users, the Government and key stakeholder organisations. These are outlined below.

Charging For Water

If consumers do not pay for the amount of water they use, there is no financial incentive to use water efficiently. For this group it is important to seek alternative techniques to incentivise the efficient use of water.  CIWEM recognises the significant challenge in this area.

Metering with appropriate tariff structures - such as the rising block tariff (wherein the unit charge for progressively higher volumes of water taken by customers rises), or a seasonally-varying or aridity-indexed tariff (wherein water costs more per unit when it is less plentiful) - is a major incentive to water efficiency looking to the future. In their latest water resources plans, a number of water companies have announced substantial selective metering programmes that are predicted to generate considerable reductions in consumption.  CIWEM supports appropriate and smart metering to manage the demand for water; however, the social and economic implications of such an approach need to be properly factored into policy and practice, with appropriate provisions being made for the disadvantaged.

Ofwat and the water companies have a key role in developing innovative tariffs which are acceptable to customers and encourage the efficient use of water, particularly for discretionary uses such as garden watering. CIWEM believes that in the longer term all household customers should be metered where practical, particularly in water stressed areas (the number of households on a meter is now 1 in 4, overall, but this varies considerably across the UK). Accordingly CIWEM endorses innovative measures to increase the rate of metering.

Historically, the relatively low cost of public water supplies has provided little incentive for industrial or agricultural users to use water efficiently even where their charges have been based on metered consumption. More recent evidence however, suggests that large industrial water users are increasingly concerned about the cost of water and are seeking ways to economise, for example through implementing waste minimisation measures.

Financial Regime for Water Companies

Where water is charged for on a metered basis, the present regulatory arrangement for water companies results in increased income for companies from increased water sales and vice-versa. This is because the price cap on charges set by the economic regulator relates to the unit prices of water rather than, for example, a cap on total revenue or income. This could provide a distorted incentive for water companies to increase the volume of water supplied, which is against the generally accepted principles of sustainable development.

Possibilities for regulatory reform could include some hybrid form of revenue and tariff cap similar to that used for the electricity distribution companies, which broadly reflects the fixed and variable costs of supply. Further reforms could reward companies for the efficiency of water use by their customers as part of the price determination by the economic regulator. For example, energy utilities in the USA are rewarded for lower sales attributable to energy saving programmes.

Strategic Portfolio of Efficiency Measures

The design and implementation of water efficiency policy does not produce single or simple answers. It is likely that change can only be achieved by adopting an integrated approach, involving a multitude of stakeholders over a long period of time. Water suppliers, users, manufacturers of water using appliances, (such as washing machines, dishwashers, showers), regulators and Government must all play a role, and this is recognised in the strategic portfolio of water efficiency measures shown in Table 1. A national forum of stakeholders is needed to stimulate action on the full range of possible efficiency measures and to promote research to develop a sound understanding of their relative costs and benefits.  Accordingly CIWEM welcomes the setting up of the Water Savings Group and Waterwise to provide an integrated national plan for water efficiency and facilitate large-scale promotion of efficient use of water. CIWEM urges the organisations involved to ensure that these initiatives result in practical actions and activities which bring about actual water savings.

The National Water Conservation Group is a voluntary organisation supported by stakeholders involved in all aspects of public water supply use.  Watersave is a network of academic and industrial experts involved in furthering the promotion of water efficiency. CIWEM supports these initiatives and would wish to see their roles more widely publicised and supported.  CIWEM recommends that there needs to be an overview of all these initiatives to ensure that they are undertaken efficiently and have appropriate engagement of all stakeholders.

Water utilities have duties to promote water efficiency and to conserve water.  As such CIWEM would like to see a more pro-active stance taken by water utilities.  However it is recognised that studies, initiatives and roll out projects can be costly, uncertain in terms of what reductions in demand can be achieved and sustained over the longer term, and at what cost in terms of both finance and manpower.  To this degree CIWEM would like to see Ofwat and other funding bodies allow adequate funding for water efficiency programmes in water utilities' plans; and should anticipated savings fail to accrue despite vigorous efforts on the part of water companies and others, those companies who have tried should not be penalised for failing, but recognised for making the effort.

With the general requirement by all sectors of the community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change, water companies will need to achieve efficiency reductions.  One of the most straightforward ways of achieving this is to reduce the amount of water put into supply by a reasonable amount.  In general, a target of a 30% reduction in CO2 emissions could be proportionately delivered by the water industry via a reduction of water into supply of around 3% of the current total.  One possibility would be to set water companies targets, and this possibility should be explored now.

Communications Strategy

Sustainable water management calls for changes in attitude and behaviour by all parties to the water cycle. A national communications strategy is needed which forges an integrated approach and consistent messages to consumers, i.e. 'one voice' by Government, regulators, companies, professions, manufacturers and water users.  Current obstacles to public buy-in to better efficiency include the very low value placed on water (it is cheap and we take supply for granted), together with issues such as a reluctance to change behaviour when media reports that water companies have significant levels of leakage from water mains.  CCW, as part of its Using Water Wisely research, stated that there is public willingness to conserve water but also a desire for clear help and information from a single, trusted source, as well as evidence that water companies and others are tackling issues such as leakage.

January 2008

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) is the leading professional body for the people who plan, protect and care for the environment and its resources, providing educational opportunities, independent information to the public and advice to government. Members in 96 countries include scientists, engineers, ecologists and students.

Table 1 Strategic Portfolio Of Water Efficiency Measures

Measures Who Initiates Who Should Respond
Universal metering of all users, where practical

Defra, Ofwat, WCs, Agency, CCW

All water users
Selective metering of high water users Defra, Ofwat, WCs, Agency, CCW All water users

Switching to measured tariffs

WCs All water users
Introduction of innovative tariffs WCs, Defra, Agency, Ofwat All water users
Introduction of informative water bills WCs All water users
Education & information
Targeted awareness campaign
Public education programme 
Using water wisely roadshows
CCW, Waterwise, Agency, WCs, Local Agenda 21, Defra,
Environmental Groups (RSPB), Going for
Green, Global Action Plan, Ofwat
Customer Service Committees, CIWEM
All water users
Water efficiency information targeted to specific water users Agency, WCs, CCW, Waterwise, Professional bodies Industry waste minimisation groups,
Industry Associations, CBI, farmer groups, NFU, CLA, NHS Trusts, Local Authorities, Facility Managers
Water byelaws, building regulations & ecolabels
Promotion of water efficient appliances
Consumer Association, Defra,
Planners, Architects, Designers, Appliance Manufacturers, Retailers

Promotion & enforcement of compliant fixtures and fittings

Institute of Plumbing, Water
Byelaws/Regulations scheme
Planning & design
Infrastructure rebates for water efficient developments
WCs, Ofwat, Agency

Property developers


Regulation on appliances in new homes CLG, Defra BRE, RIBA, CIRIA, BSRIA, CIBSE
Planners, Architects, Developers
Promotion of best practice design standards Defra, DTI, Envirowise, Agency, BRE, CIRIA, BSRIA, Academia
Planners, Architects, Developers
Promote research for new technologies CLG, Defra

All water users

Product labelling for water appliances Planners, Architects, Property developers All water users

Re-use and recycling
Promote greywater and reuse in all buildings and residential developments

Defra, Agency, CBI, Envirowise

All new buildings & users

Promote recycling in industrial usage WCs, Ofwat, Agency, Defra Individual businesses

Water efficiency advice & audits
Promotion of water efficiency plans

WCs, Envirowise All customers, including household, business, industry, farmers

Audit large volume users

WCs, Water UK, Private Sector funding

Industrial customers

Provide retrofit kits (eg. cistern devices, variable flush devices, low volume showerheads or taps, water butts WCs, Water UK, Private Sector funding Targeted users in water stressed areas
Replace water wasting appliances and fittings Ofwat, Agency, WCs Targeted users in water stressed areas

Mains leakage reduction
Water mains
Customer supply pipes

WCs, customers


Key to acronyms in table 1:
Agency (EA) The Environment Agency
BRE   Building Research Establishment
BREEAM   Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology
BSRIA   Building Services Research and Information Association
CBI   Confederation of British Industry
CCW  Consumer Council for Water
CIBSE   Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers
CIRIA   Construction Industry Research Information Association
CIWEM  The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management 
DEFRA  Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs
CLG  (Department for) Communities and Local Government
OFWAT  Office of Water Services
RIBA   Royal Institution of British Architects
RSPB  Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
WCs   Water Companies

Note: CIWEM Policy Position Statements (PPS) represent the Institution's views on issues at a particular point in time. It is accepted that situations change as research provides new evidence. It should be understood, therefore, that CIWEM PPS's are under constant review, and that previously-held views may alter and lead to revised PPS's.


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Chartered Institution of Water and
Environmental Management (CIWEM)

106-109 Saffron Hill, London, EC1N 8QS  
Tel: 020 7831 3110   Fax: 020 7405 4967