Water companies in England have pledged to work towards tripling the rate of leakage reduction by 2030 to help meet “unprecedented challenges” posed by climate change and population growth.
Industry body Water UK said the goal represented an “unprecedented rate of improvement” as part of a wider strategy to reduce water consumption.
In October, MPs called for tougher targets for cutting water leaks after figures showed a “shocking” three billion litres are lost each day.
The House of Commons Environment Committee said water industry targets to reduce leakage by 15% by 2025 were “not ambitious enough”, and said pressure on companies to act should be increased by bringing forward from 2050 to 2040 the goal of halving the amount of water lost.
Water UK said: “As part of a wider long-term strategy to reduce per capita consumption of water and invest in more water transfer and storage, this goal represents an unprecedented rate of improvement to help us to meet the unprecedented challenges posed to water supplies by climate change and population growth.”
The target is one of five “challenging goals” agreed by firms as part of a Public Interest Commitment, which includes achieving net zero carbon emissions and preventing the equivalent of four billion plastic bottles ending up as waste by 2030.
They have also agreed to work towards making bills affordable for households whose water costs make up 5% or more of their disposable income, also by 2030, and becoming the first sector to achieve 100% commitment to the Social Mobility Pledge, which encourages employers to open up opportunities for people from poorer backgrounds.
Water UK said firms were “strengthening their ongoing commitment to working in the public interest and placing wider good at the heart of everything they do”.
While private water companies had brought “major benefits to consumers and the environment over the last 30 years”, they recognised that customers and stakeholders “expect them to do more”.
An independent panel will be established to report annually on how well the sector is performing collectively.
Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: “Water companies individually have set out proposals to improve services over the next five years in their business plans, and the Public Interest Commitment is about companies working together to build on those ambitions.
“It commits us to reinforce the public interest at the heart of everything we do, and to strive towards a set of challenging sector-wide goals which will benefit customers and the environment.”
Consumer Council for Water deputy chief executive Phil Marshall said: “Many people still don’t think they get a fair deal or value for money from their water company, so it’s imperative that the industry is committed to tackling the things that matter most to consumers.
“The goals set out by Water UK can go a long way to improving consumers’ perceptions of the industry but only if water companies deliver on these aspirations.”
Ofwat chief executive Rachel Fletcher said: “People want to know that water companies are striving to deliver for customers, communities and the environment, and are not just concerned about making money for their owners.
“Water UK’s initiative to develop a public interest commitment is a welcome first step. We look forward to seeing how the companies embrace this and make the changes needed to bring it to life.”
Harvey Bradshaw, executive director at the Environment Agency, welcomed the moved as an “important step”.
He said: “As we prepare for the impacts of climate change, we want to see water companies doing more to protect the environment and increasing investment in resilience to drought and flooding.”