More than three billion litres, a fifth of the amount used, is lost to leakage every day – and public bodies were accused of taking their eyes off the ball over the “wholly unacceptable” situation. The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) was blamed for a lack of leadership in getting to grips with the issues threatening supplies. The Environment Agency and the regulator Ofwat were also criticised.
A report by the Public Accounts Committee said there was a “serious risk that some parts of England will run out of water within the next 20 years”.
MPs said the Government has failed to be clear with water companies on how they should balance investment in infrastructure with reducing customer bills.
They say “ponderous” firms, after privatisation in 1989, have made “no progress” in reducing leakage over the past 20 years.
They are calling for “urgent action to ensure a reliable water supply in the years ahead” and they want better efficiency and public campaigns.
Chairwoman Meg Hillier said: “It is very hard to imagine, in this country, turning the tap and not having enough clean, drinkable water come out – but that is exactly what we now face.
“Continued inaction by the water industry means we continue to lose one fifth of our daily supply to leaks.
“Empty words on climate commitments and unfunded public information campaigns will get us where we’ve got the last 20 years – nowhere.
“Defra has failed to lead and water companies have failed to act – we look now to the department to step up, make up for lost time and see we get action before it’s too late. This reduction was followed by over a decade of complacency and inaction, which has meant water leakage is now a hugely pressing problem.
“No one organisation has got a thorough grip on dealing with this issue and driving the change necessary.”
Ms Hillier, added: “It is wholly unacceptable that over three billion litres are wasted every day through leakage, with no improvement in the last 20 years.
“From a high of over 4.5 billion litres a day in the early 1990s, daily losses through leakage fell to around three billion at the turn of the century.
“However, this reduction was followed by over a decade of complacency and inaction, which has meant water leakage is now a hugely pressing problem.
“The department urged water companies in 2016 to make tackling leakage a much higher priority.
“However, there has still been little progress. We are unconvinced by Ofwat’s hope that water companies will ‘surprise themselves’ at what they can achieve, and call on the department and Ofwat to be more proactive in ensuring companies meet leakage targets.”
MPs’ request for improvements include clearer communication and better public awareness. They urged ministers to speak to them about plans.