Is a hosepipe ban the best solution to the recent water shortages in the south east?

Richard Aylard

We’ve had two exceptionally dry years, with rainfall in March at less than half the long-term average. Stretches of the River Kennet in Wiltshire and Pang in Berkshire have completely dried up and some ground water levels are lower than they were as far back as 1976.

With no way of knowing what the weather will bring, the introduction of hosepipe bans is the prudent next step in the process of conserving water and it will make sure we will have enough water available when we’ll need it most. When you realise that a garden sprinkler uses as much water in an hour as a family of four uses in a day, you start to understand that the needs of families must come first. We can’t make it rain, but we can all use and waste less water.

Richard Aylard is director of external affairs and sustainability at Thames Water.

Tim Leunig

Rationing is a crude solution, useful only if the alternative is standpipes in the streets. Today, water companies should offer commercial users compensation to cut water use. That water would be resold to families who want to water their gardens and fill their paddling pools. Since domestic prices are higher, the water companies can use the extra money they get from hosepipe-using households to cover the cost of compensation to commercial users. If necessary, they should raise the price that they charge domestic users who use a lot of water. This would give them more revenue that can be used to persuade commercial users to cut use. And knowing the price people are willing to pay for more water would tell us whether it is worth building more reservoirs, cutting leaks, moving water around the country or building desalination plants.

Tim Leunig is chief economist at Centre Forum.