The committee also demands a significant reduction in the unacceptably high level of leakage from water companies' pipes, alongside more coherent and better-funded promotion of sensible water use among domestic and business consumers.
At the root of the problem is the government's failure to ensure properly integrated water management; accordingly, the committee calls for new regional boards, with greater consumer and environmental representation, to work out the best balance of measures for each part of the country.
Lord Selborne, chairman of the committee, said:
'The water crisis has now been widely talked about for a number of months. Much of the country already has restrictions on water usage and these will increase considerably if we have a dry summer.
'We are concerned that Ofwat has not taken this problem seriously enough and in its drive to ensure low water prices for consumers has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to ensuring adequate security of supply. Only by giving water companies assurances about future income can the water providers effectively plan long-term investments in infrastructure, tackle leakage and promote water efficiency.
'Our key message is that the government must work much harder to integrate environmental, social and economic interests in the management of water.'
Other conclusions in the report include the following:
The government failed to consider the water management implications of their house-building plans at an early enough stage, and their belated estimates of the growth in demand are wholly unconvincing. Along with the Environment Agency, they must ensure that the water companies' plans factor in what is bound to be a significant increase in demand.
A national water grid is not feasible because it would require huge amounts of energy and would cost too much. However, greater connectivity between water companies should be strongly encouraged.
There is a need for increased re-use of water, both by the water companies and in new housing developments. This might include the recycling of wastewater and rainwater.
Ofwat should provide greater incentives for the water companies to invest in long-term research and development.
1. The report is published by The Stationary Office: Water Management, House of Lords, Science and Technology Select Committee (Sub-Committee I), 8th Report of 2005/06, HL Paper 191-I, ISBN 010 400871 7, Price£21
2. The full report is available online here.
3. The committee received evidence from a wide variety of sources during this long-running inquiry, including: Ofwat, Defra, the Consumer Council for Water, ODPM, Water UK, the European Commission, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, English Nature, the Environment Agency, the Town and Country Planning Association and many other academic and professional experts.
4. The members of the committee who conducted the inquiry were:
Earl of Selborne (chairman)
Lord Howie of Troon
Lord Lewis of Newnham
Baroness Perry of Southwark
Baroness Platt of Writtle
Baroness Sharp of Guildford
Lord Whitty (until March 2006)